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One month home

Abby has been home for one month. I can hardly believe it--it's been a bit of a blur.

And how's it going? In a word, great. Not that it has been all roses and buttercups. I don't want to sugarcoat it. But I also don't want to emphasize the hard parts and make it sound worse than it is. Overall, we feel very blessed that Abby seems to be doing really well. We know there could still be bumps in the road ahead. And I also know that just because this is my experience does not mean it will be everyone's. But I'll try to share a little to give you a glimpse of what this month--for Abby and for us--had been like. There's so much to share, that I'll probably do it over several posts. But I thought I'd start with our biggest focus thus far--both for Abby and for us, and that is her independence and out attachment.

I watched a video the other day from our last day in Ethiopia, actually from when we were in the airport waiting to fly home. I was amazed at how different Abby seemed--just in how she carried herself-- even in such short period of time.
When we met Abby, it quickly became obvious to us that she was Ms. Independent. People who met her before we did, would write and tell us, "She walks around like she owns the place." And sure enough, she did. Her smile was magnetic, and nannies from all over the transition home would call to her in the courtyard to come over for a hug and a kiss. She would oblige them, flash her winning smile, and then move on to her next passing interest.
We watched her with the other children, and while we often saw her generously sharing her goodies, it was in a sort of patronizing way, enjoying the power she wielded with a ziploc baggie full of dum-dums. We saw her take charge of the group often, sometimes butting heads with one little boy who had a similar proclivity to boss the others around. (We nicknamed him "the Mayor".) On one occasion, it actually went fist to cuff, and Abby gave him a swift right hook for taking another kids candy away. (I was horrified...Joe was slightly proud.) Within the confines of her routine at the transition home, there was still alot of freedom for her to do what she wanted, how she wanted, when she wanted. Abby was used to being her own boss.
Joe and I noticed, too, that this independence was cultural as well. We saw many children enjoying freedoms we would never give our 2- and 3-year-olds in this country. Walking alone down the road, running around near fires set up for cooking, climbing seemingly unstable structures, shouldering responsibilities with chores we would think twice asking a teenager to do here in the's just different in Ethiopia. We were told a story about Abby, how when she was 2 years old, growing up in a rural area, she would walk--alone--into town and charm someone into giving her a free banana. Orphaned at @ 3 years old, she must have had to learn quickly how to take care of herself.
One of my most vivid memories, the first time we were with her, was her hitting her head--hard--on a chair. She looked stunned, and you could tell it hurt, but she didn't cry. She just scowled, stared down for a minute until the pain began to subside, and walked away. No tears. It was like she was not used to anyone caring, or having anyone to go to and tell she was hurt. No one to kiss her boo-boo or hold her until she felt better. She just did it on her own. Took care of herself.

It was clear to us after a couple of days with her that we would be in for a time of adjustment when she came home. She was open to everyone and yet attached to no one. We knew we had work to do, and we knew it would require us to parent differently that we had our securely attached biological children.

Most of what I read all seemed to lean in a direction of allowing her to maintain whatever freedom we could--so as not to disrupt her too much. To provide boundaries but provide her choices and control and compromises as much as possible. They said to say "yes" seven times more than you say "no". I admit, this made me feel a bit like my hands were tied at first. Like I needed to accommodate her will as much as possible, not correct her or direct her to my will. Maybe that was self-imposed and not the intent of the authors of what I read--but I felt like if I said "no" too much I'd be scaring her and asking more of her than she should have to give.

But after day 2 of having Abby with us in Addis, we both agreed: if we let this girl-- she will run our household. She loved calling all the shots and leading our decisions. But we were setting a stage for her that was unrealistic--it would never work in our home. So we shifted things a bit, and we began to say no.
And I realize there is more than one way to say no. You can explain and reason, and even make a child feel like they are winning when really, you are guiding them to your will. But frankly---all those things are hard to do when you can barely communicate! We had about 10 words in our mutual vocabulary...not alot to work with.

But one of the few things we could clearly communicate, that Abby clearly understood was "Aye"---NO. We began to say it alot. Frankly, we still say it alot. (I laughed one day because we'd gotten in such a habit of saying it, my son said it to our dog--"Aye, Gracie!" I reminded him, I don't think the dogs speak Amharic...) But when you are limited in your vocabulary, and you have a four year old reaching for your knives or pulling the dog's tail or trying to open the front door or hitting her sister or unbuckling her seatbelt---there's no way to reason with words. There's no explaining it or making it sound better--"Let's respect people and animals and treat them kindly." or "Instead of a knife, how about you play with a spoon?" or "I'll give you two choices: instead of opening the front door, we can play with a toy or eat a granola bar...which do you choose?" Uh, yea, NO. Too many words. I would've lost her at "Let's". So we said "No".

"No" means boundaries. And for Abby, I'm discovering, boundaries are her love language. Not the she loves her boundaries. Not at all. But they are communicating, like nothing else, that we are her mommy and daddy and we love her and are taking care of her. Hugs and kisses are not enough to do that---she got those often from countless nannies and visitors. While we shower her with affection and say "Awadashalo" (I love you) about 600 times a day---that is not what is primarily providing her with security and comfort. "No" is. Me being the boss--and not her--is giving her the chance to unload the burden of responsibility she has had to carry, and just be a kid.
And little by little, she is finding her place in those boundaries. She is seeing we have her best interests in mind, we are providing for her needs, and we are delighting in her. She is even taking initiative to do things and try things she knows are appropriate, demonstrating she still feels freedom to be herself and make good choices within the parameters we have set for her. This brings us great joy.
And, the greatest goal is happening: she is attaching to us. Each morning, when I hear the pitter pat of her little feet, and she runs into my lap to cuddle--I know deep down in my heart--she feels loved. She feels safe. She feels secure.

Our cocoon phase is ending. She is adventurous and curious--she wants to see the world, "suck the marrow out of life!", so to speak. We will venture out more, let more people into our daily life, and continue to let her life unfold as she experiences new things.
So there's a peek into our home. More to come. Also---If you have specific questions--things you've wondered about what this time has been like for us, or for Abby--feel free to ask in the comments. I'm happy to share and let it direct my posts in the future.

And now I'm off to play littlest pet shop. I hope she let's me be the turtle this time.


To God be the Glory! said...

Awadashalo :) Thank you for sharing!! From my vantage point, you and Joe are doing a wonderful job raising all of your children!!!

Abigail said...

Wow, this is so insightful. I've always wondered how bonding and attachment works with older children. I would just love to hear more of the same...more of what has worked and what hasn't, different ways you are encouraging attachment, etc. I know there is a huge need for families willing to adopt older children, but I think this area of bonding and attachment is a "goliath" to some people that they can't get over...Thank you for sharing your experience--that it is possible, and can actually be quite beautiful! Praise God for His work in Abby's life, and in your lives together!

Melissa said...

She has changed so much in just a month! Love that girl. Love you all and will continuing praying <3

Christy said...

Love it! YOu are such a great writer! :) SO thankful that the transition has gone well and know that God has equipped you in every way. Would love to hear how it's changed her siblings since they had to adjust some, especially being older and having a littler one in the house now too. But we just need to get together sometime... and then I can pick your brain with tons of questions! :) ha!

Katy {and Kahler} said...

this just melts my heart. i can't wait to have my own story like this one day. until then, i'll live vicariously through you (and others). what a blessing!

thank you for sharing! i know life must be so busy right now, and taking time to blog probably isnt the most convenient, but thank you. we are praising the Father, rejoicing with you, but at the same time, we know its His work is not finished here- we continue to pray for her transition and one day salvation. :)

mrstraciewhite said...

Rachel, you are a gifted writer, your blog posts just flow beautifully.
Second, I picked up a little book at a Christian library (at a church). Personally, I believe it should be required reading for every parent. It's called The Little Book of Christian Character & Manners.
Let me just say... wow.
You mentioned the circle of thought that says not to say 'no' too often, yet you are seeing that giving those boundaries are a security to your daughter. Amen!
"It is only the Word of God that is to give us the never-failing foundation and appropriate instruction for training our children." not secular humanistic views that have permeated our culture. ie 'Saying no hurts a child's self-esteem' (ha!)
"The truth is that because of the Fall every child is born self-centered and totally dedicated to self-rule. Chastening (saying no) enables parents to control and give order to their child's life;"
I applaud you for your post and for being a godly example to others.

Alison said...

So glad that things are going so well having Abby home! She is just adorable!!

Meyerdrk said...

Another beautifully written post, my friend. So glad to see bonding take place (that has been one of our most consistent prayers for you all). Love you!

Unknown said...

Wow! I so admire your clarity at just one month home. After our three came home my brain was mush for about a year and there were plenty of "no"s that were all met with anger and frustration and no language to help:) We all fell apart.
Praise the Lord that you are handling it with Grace and Understanding. She seems to have found a wonderful soft landing in your family.

meredith said...

What a great post! She is beautiful!!

I found your blog through a friends. I've been "Stalking" adoption blogs for a little while now. My husband and I just decided to pursue adoption from Ethiopia. We were orginally thinking about a little girl under 12 months, but the last few weeks I've been thinking maybe an older girl. Possibly 2-4? Any advice you have on adopting an "older" child would be great. The good and the bad.

Thank you so much!
Meredith Cobb

Chrissy said...

Loved this!! While I can imagine how emotionally overwhelming some moments must feel for everyone, the reward of having her snuggle in your lap each morning must be unexplainable. Loved the story about Abby and the banana... and other tidbits like her first Oreo cookie.... looking forward to many other beginnings and, like all children, watching her bud into the beautiful woman that God designed her to be in the life He chose just for her.