Monday, June 2, 2014

The past is not in the past

This weekend we celebrated 11 months  home with Vivian.  She has come so far and changed so much in these 11 months.  So much that sometimes I think it can be easy to forget where she was, and what her life was like 11 months ago.

I think people see the happy, well-adjusted, beautiful child we have and assume she has left that painful part of her life behind her. I think people assume our hard days are behind us.   Friends say things to me all the time like, "She's not even the same child she was in China", and "It's like she doesn't even remember her old life", and "she's just like any other kid now".  And in many ways, they are right.  She has changed so much, and she is mostly happy and moving forward with her life and she is, in so many ways, like a typical 3 year old.

But in other ways, the they are wrong.  She IS the same child that she was in China.  And she's NOT just like any other kid.  And she CERTAINLY remembers.

We see the scars of her past show up in our lives in subtle and not so subtle ways.

Probably the biggest way is in her fear of being away from me.  If I go out, to the grocery store, or even on a run, she hugs and kisses me and hangs on my legs and follows me out like it is our last goodbye.  She still cries when we leave her with babysitters.  She did end up loving preschool and stopped crying on school days, but we had the same conversation on the way to school EVERY SINGLE DAY up until the last day of preschool.  I kid you not, every single day.  The entire car ride this is our conversation,

Vivian:  "Mama right back"
Me:  "Yes, Vivian, mama will be right back"
10 second pause
Vivian:  "Mama right back"
Me:  "Yes Vivian, you know mama will come right back and get you"

This would go on the entire ride.  Over and over every school day.  I could not reassure her enough.

She is totally happy if I am nearby.  Remember the pictures of her first day of gymnastics? And how she looked just like every other kid smiling and jumping and playing?   Well, she was, until the moment I decided to go to the bathroom and she didn't see me and this is what I came back to.  Complete panic.

Sometimes I will try to get a little walk in on my treadmill.  The treadmill is in a room right off of our playroom so with my other kids I could walk on the treadmill and they would play in the playroom.  Not with Vivian.  This is where you will always find Vivian when I am on the treadmill. 

Same thing happens when I work on my computer.  There is one place she likes to be:  right next to me.  Oh, and if we are touching she is that much more content.  Sister does not understand the concept of "personal space" yet.

She also still has food issues.  She HATES if you take her food away.  She likes to have her breakfast plate left out until her lunch plate comes out and then likes her lunch plate to stay out until her dinner plate comes out.   Yesterday I cleaned up her breakfast plate b/c I thought she was done.  When she came back to the table and saw it was gone she literally fell to the floor hysterical that her bacon was taken away.  This happens all the time.  We have been feeding her as much as we can for 11 months and she still does not seem to trust that there will be enough food for her.

And every once in a while she just has a sad day.  I don't really know how to explain it or how to put my finger on what it is, but she will have a day where she will just seem far away.  Like a few weeks ago when she woke up one day and literally just would NOT be put down.  All day.  And then in the afternoon my non-napping child crawled up on my lap and situated herself so I had to hold her like a baby and closed her eyes and fell asleep on me.  I can only imagine that transitioning to a new life can be exhausting on some days.

There are times when I can tell people think I am coddling her too much.  And maybe I am.  But I just don't think it would be fair to try and parent her exactly the same as my other kids.  She just didn't have the same start in life as them.  My sister had 3 premature babies.  I remember she fed them different formula, adjusted their age for certain things, and cared for them differently than I cared for my full term babies.  They had a different start to their life and so they needed different things.  So do kids from hard places.  They sometimes need different things, different strategies.  You just can't expect them to "fall in line" with your family and do things the same way your other kids did.  You can't expect them to leave their past in the past.  It is in their hearts.  You have to make adjustments for them, for all they missed. You have to allow them room to grieve.

And make no mistake, they all grieve.  How could they not?

The other thing I think people have wrong is when they tell us how "lucky" Vivian is.  Everywhere we go well-meaning friends and strangers say "what a lucky little girl".  Just a few days ago Rob took Vivian to breakfast.  A sweet old woman came up and said to Rob .... you guessed it...."isn't she lucky"?  He came home and said to me, "I hate when people say that,  I mean, what am I supposed to say to that?" 

Of course we understand it is meant as a compliment to Rob and I and our family.  And we appreciate that.  We can all agree that Vivian is better off here with us than in that orphanage.  We can all agree that we are glad the orphanage decided to file her adoption paperwork when so many others at her orphanage were not given that chance. 

But I have a really hard time finding anything in her life that should be deemed "lucky".  When people use that term I feel it minimizes all the hardship she has endured.

My daughter was left alone on a cold night in the middle of the winter at the gates of an orphanage.
The only information she has about her first few weeks in the world are a few words written in her file, "female abandoned baby found at gate and sent to Welfare Institute to be raised".
She lived in an orphanage where she was left in her crib 22 hours of the day for 33 months.
She was fed congee, and only congee, for every meal for 33 months.
She was not fed when she was hungry, she was not picked up when she cried, she was not held when she was sick or scared, and she was rarely taken outside.
She was one day handed over to complete strangers by the only people she trusted in this world and, as soon as they handed her over, they disappeared from her life forever.
She left China with ONE possession to show for the almost 3 years she spent there:  a pair of squeaky shoes.
She will never know the man and woman who brought her into this world.  She will never know whose eyes she got or who her beautiful little lips come from.
She will never know if she has siblings in China. 
She will never know why she was left.

None of this is lucky.  It is tragic actually. 

I want people to stop telling her how lucky she is because I don't want her to grow up feeling like she has to feel lucky.  I have no idea how Vivian will feel about her adoption as she grows up.  But I do know that she will be allowed to feel however she wants to about it.  If she feels lucky, great.  If she feels sad or angry or confused, that will be completely understandable and fine with us.  I am afraid if all she ever hears is how lucky she is supposed to feel she may struggle to admit when she is feeling some of those other emotions.

I do not consider Vivian lucky.  But you know who is lucky?  Rob and I.

Vivian has lost so much.  We have gained so much.
Vivian has experienced so much sadness.  We have had nothing but utter joy since the day we met her. 
We got to choose to adopt from China.  She had no say in being taken from her birth country.
We got to choose Vivian to be our daughter.  She had no say in who would be her parents.

Lucky for us she seems, for now, to be pretty happy to have gotten stuck with us.

And while her past shows itself from time to time, she does not let it have the last word.  I hope that is how it can always be for her.  I don't ever want her to forget all that she has been through. I think it has made her an incredibly brave and strong person.  But I hope she can continue to hold on to this amazing ability she has to live in the present and with an open and trusting heart in spite of all that she has been through.  I need to follow her lead because God knows I spend more time wrestling with her past than she does.  She has such an amazing spirit.
She is my hero.


  1. Thank you for sharing the "other side of the story." Seeing Vivian smiling in your many gorgeous photos, it is so easy to fall into the trap of forgetting the earlier days of her story and the battle she has had to fight to maintain her beautiful spirit. What a wonder she is!

  2. Thank you for this wonderful post. All too often, it is easy to forget what these brave children have gone through. Vivian looks wonderful, and if it is any consolation, my bio son who will be 3 in July always stands right behind me when I am on the computer. (We are a French family in South Charlotte, hoping to adopt next year.

  3. Beautiful! Thank you for being real.

  4. I love this post! I could have written this (not as eloquently) of my experience with my daughter. Beautiful.

  5. thanks for sharing this. I love your blog and this post ... I find it looking for some material or cases of adoption in China. I want it so much but we have our fears, you blog helps to keep them away.thanks again for sharing your life and Vivian's life with us.

  6. Thank you for sharing. We are going to travel to China for our first adoption (we too have biological kids at home) later this month. We don't even have her yet and we've received some comments similar to what you discuss in your post. You are so right: these little children are the heroes. You have a beautiful family!

  7. I so hate the term lucky as well. I have two children adopted from Nepal. And I cannot get people to understand that we are the lucky ones, that a country graciously allowed us to parent two of their children. My daughter was very much like your daughter, especially about food. Those issues do go away. But I can tell you even now at 10, my daughter has dinner, than an after dinner snack, and then a before bedtime snack. She is healthy, was in gymnastics and is now a swimmer. I read that girls who swim and take lessons and are on swim teams will continue that exercise well into their lives. Enjoy these close moments with Vivian. It is what will sustain her in times of sadness and despair. She will recall all the times she hung on to you, how you clutched her and never let her go. I have a feisty 10 year old daughter now. She is resolute in her person and so strong willed. Thanks for sharing your story. It made me think of our journey for our daughter Kiran.

  8. such a beautiful story!

  9. My now 18 year old daughter from China adopted at 8 months would say to me everyday right up until the first days of 2nd grade with tears in her eyes "I just want to be with you." And now, as she prepares to go to college across the country I say "I just want to be with you, too." Hold her, baby her, she needs it. And don't let other parents tell you you'll spoil her. She needs all the love and cuddles.

  10. This is a wonderful story and you have a beautiful family. As a mother to a boy from Nepal I have experienced many of the same things. My son is here 6 years now and only now can I be away from him outside my 'scheduled' times to be at work or at the grocery store... etc. He is only accepting of this because he is with my mom during those times or at school. We deal with food issues, abandonment issues and emotional issues. In fact my son is soon to get a service dog to help him deal with being out in public without panicking. So I understand and I empathize. My history with my son is so like yours right down to the lucky comments from others. But people really don't understand.
    I always tell myself 1 day at time and I wouldn't have been given my son if someone (insert your deity here) didn't think I could handle him. I think the same is true for you too. Best of luck to your family.

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  12. Well said! So many things that people who haven't walked down the adoption road will never understand.

  13. I so identify with so much of this. My daughter has been with us for more than 5 years, and we still deal with both the food and separation issues. Also deal with the "luckiest kid in the world" comments & have said similar things as your response (though not so eloquently). Thank you for sharing. Your writing ins beautiful and really spoke to me.

  14. Thank you for sharing your heart! Our son is the same way in so many ways. He has to know the plan and when I will be back, etc and he will ask over and over again as if he is convincing himself that is how it will happen. And when I come back it is as if I was gone for such a long time because he is so overjoyed and exuberant! But we must never forget that our children do need us to care for them in different ways. Just tonight I went downstairs without the baby monitor and he called out for me...I didn't hear him right away and by the time I did a few minutes later he was hysterically crying because I didn't come..........he has been home for just over two years. The wounds are still there, but now they are tended to by us every moment of every day. He is my joy every day and I pray that I am his as well! :)

  15. Maureen -
    This is a beautiful post. I found myself shaking my head YES all the way though. It hit so close to home for us. Thank you for so eloquently putting into words the feelings a lot of adoptive families feel. Luck really had nothing to do with adoption for so many reasons for our little ones. We are the ones blessed beyond measure. Every day I pray Lia will feel blessed as well, to be a part of such a wonderful and scary thing- called adoption and that she will feel the love and joy we feel just having her be a part of us.
    Blessing to you all

  16. You are an excellent writer.

  17. You should be careful in parroting the information your daughter's orphanage provided you, especially to your daughter. Given the substantial evidence of fabrications in adoption paperwork, the sad reality is that you can rely on none of the information you were given. Research in China's orphanages shows that in a majority of cases, the information about a child's finding is a deceptive tale, with little relationship to her true story. I am not saying that your daughter's story is untrue, only that you should not fully trust what you have been told. I essayed about our own personal experiences with these discoveries.

  18. I love this. So much. The pic of Vivi hanging around your neck at the computer is so familiar!

  19. We adopted our now 8 year old daughter when she was 9 months old. I used to hate it when people told her how lucky she was to be adopted (grrrr), but now I pretend that I did not hear them correctly and say loudly and proudly, "Yes, we are very, very fortunate to have her as our daughter. She is amazing and a total blessing to us" That usually changes the whole conversation AND reinforces how we feel about our precious one. And, even at 9 months, our child grieved (and continues to grieve at times 7 years later). We love her more than anything and she is our joy. Ignore what people say about coddling your daughter and love her with your mama heart like you are doing!

  20. I'm reading your blog as someone in the very, very early stages of adopting through CCAI. This posts resonates with me more than about anything I have read about the process so far. Thank you for your candor and insights.