Sunday, February 08, 2009

Loving her differently

I’ve been running around the edges of this blog post for over a month. January 10th was the third year anniversary of becoming Nora’s mother. I go back and forth, back and forth trying to get my feelings right about what that has meant to me for the last three years. On every other adoption related blog in the known universe, it seems like the gotcha day remembrances are heart-felt tributes to the power of the universe to bring together just the right parents with just the right child. Of course, I have difficulties with the whole red-thread premise. I take exception to the belief that god with a big G ripped our children away from their birth families on purpose so we could know the joy of parenthood. That can’t be right, right? Gods don’t do that kind of thing to innocent children and grieving birth parents, right? But I can agree that the tragic fall-out of a failed political and economic system made by men, not big G gods, brought four beautiful humans to me to parent as wisely as I can. However, one of those little humans is giving me a run for my money and makes it all a lot harder to parent wisely than it was before she arrived on the scene.

Nora has made me stretch emotionally, and I have to admit, I have absolutely resented her for that. I’m not so good at expressing complex feelings, not good at all. I am not a member of the emotionally mature club. My application is still at probationary caveman status and approval does not appear imminent. But I keep this blog going if for no other reason than having it makes me keep thinking about being Nora’s parent and how that makes me feel and how I need to keep making an effort to put labels on how I feel about this beautiful girl and not just grunt and whine in exasperation.

It’s hard to be emotionally evolved when you lack the introspection gene. You know those people who can listen to a problem or observe a situation and see past the externals and really try to understand the ulterior motivation for the result? I truly admire those people but I am not one of those people. Not even close. I don’t live in the same country. I can’t even figure out why I react to things the way I do not to mention trying to figure out someone else’s reason for their behavior. Sometimes I feel like I need one of those emotion boards therapists use for non-communicative kids so I can point to the mad or sad face to even get close to labeling my own feelings.

And labeling my feelings about Nora is so much more complicated than the mad/sad faces on the kiddie feelings chart. Without the half-composed blog posts constantly running through my head, I think I would still be sitting here with my finger on the mad face. I wouldn’t be doing any constructive thinking, I’d just be knee-jerk reacting and letting her push my buttons like a .10 ocarina from the Chuckie Cheese prize counter that ends up costing you $20 in game tickets. Writing about Nora in my brain (even though I seldom get those kinds of posts written down and can think of a bazillion reasons not to make them public) makes me page through my mental thesaurus to try to find a more nuanced vocabulary words and ways to describe my feelings. My relationship with Nora does not represent the simple, straightforward and beribboned basket of slobbering love that I hold in my hands for my other three daughters. My relationship with Nora can make me brittle with frustration and despair that she will live with me forever because she will never learn to navigate by herself in the big world. But then I can go for long calm stretches where I can just begin to enjoy who she is and what she brings to the family.

I am riding the emotional roller coaster with this child. I find it difficult to hold onto my emotional sanity with my hands tightly gripping the crash bar. Whatever slobbery love basket I had for her flew out on the first big hill and once in awhile I catch it again and throw my hands up to enjoy the ride, but just as soon, I’m gripping the bar again, basket loose in the wind. Like last week, Nora’s teacher sent two exasperated emails (this from a woman with a pretty high tolerance level for exasperation) about some abominable new behavior Nora was engaging in at school and I felt so angry and embarrassed that I wanted to punish her until she was 21. Three days later, Nora’s teacher sent an email to let me know that Nora got her first 100 for the year on a test and it brought me to tears. I know how hard Nora has to work to understand the class work and to keep up in school and how doggedly determined she is about completing her homework and how it hurts her to be the cellar-dweller in her class. We made a huge, HUGE, freaking deal about the 100%. But see, the other girls bring home their occasional 100% papers (all four of my daughters are hell-bent on defeating the Asian academic stereotype, apparently), I don’t have to make a big deal, no extra effort is expected on my behalf, they know they are just meeting my basic expectations, they get a high five and life goes on. But with Nora, everything seems to take extra from me, whether dealing with her bad behavior choices or filling her big black emotional hole of need to help keep her on the right track. I have struggled and flogged myself and I did so desperately wanted to disrupt during that first year but never ever acted on that feeling because what in the world would that say to my older three? I had to get over my self-pity and myself. I had to let go of the happy family fantasy that I had created and recognize that NONE of the things that Nora does is aberrant or unusual or intentional or the product of some clinical condition. She is a pretty normal little kid who is academically challenged and emotionally immature. That’s all, nothing personal, that’s just how she came pre-loaded at birth and after 4.5 years in an institution.

She was born in the year of the Snake and I was born in the year of the Pig and we are mortal enemies according to Chinese zodiac lore. But just as I don’t buy the red-thread story line, I really don’t buy the idea that the course of our lives is prescribed by a zodiac prediction either, Chinese or otherwise. I have to constantly remind myself (and it is a good thing when the parent rooms at Shriners Children’s Hospital are full and the wise Mrs. Ellison is forced to bunk with us and reminds me in person, thanks Stefani), that being a parent is not about our children meeting our needs, it is about how we meet the needs of our children. Compared to my other three children, Nora has big needs. I have to remind myself to hitch up my big girl panties and give this child what she needs even when I’m staring at the last end of my last wit as it fades in the rear-view mirror. She does make things harder and I give myself that. Everything about parenting has been harder since Nora walked into that conference room in the Lottery Hotel in Nanning and stripped the Groovy Girl out of my hands and proceeded to rip the clothes off the doll and scatter them on the floor.

For not being very introspective, I did come with good instincts, and my instinct that morning was to grab up YuYu and run, run fast and far from the challenge that pounced into the room with tons of attitude and fake curly pigtails attached to her head. I instantly knew that she was the kind of kid I don’t usually like to be around. The kind of kid I smile at patiently and benignly when I take my kids on school field trips but can’t wait to give back to the teacher or parent responsible for the little miscreant at the end of the day. Nora is that kind of kid for me. She might be someone else’s cup of tea, but she wears me out. So that morning in January 2006, I stood up for her out of obligation but I am learning to continue to stand up for her out of love. I will continue to fill in my own emotional deficits in order to become her best parent because Nora, my perfect and innocent child, is NOT the one with the problem.

So if you thought that big lead in was going to result in a beautifully written and inspirational thesis statement about raising a challenging child, you would be wrong. After three years of living with Nora, I have reached this conclusion: Loving Ellie, YuYu and Mimi is easy, loving Nora is hard. I love them all differently and that isn’t bad.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Angel Eyes

She is THRILLED. She kept nagging and nagging, "Has Costco called yet?" "Are my glasses ready yet?" We ran down to the Costco after dinner on Tuesday and she hasn't stopped beaming since she put them on her face. She can't stop looking in the mirror and she's going to starve because she would rather look at her reflection in the kitchen window than eat dinner. These are her sturdy glasses and I'll need to get a picture of her hip and kicky frames. I never knew anyone could get so worked up over wearing glasses, but YuYu can. My myopic angel.