An impromptu art lesson for my Bulgarians. They were never taught how to make art. It is clear that they desire to make art. We ALL desire to make art because we are made in the image and likeness of God. The essence of our very being is that of creator. Making art is a useful means of communication when spoken language fails. It is therapeutic.
They are learning not only how to use art materials, but also how to observe. As teenagers, they had not really learned to pay attention to how the human form, nor plants, nor anything else was made. Arms too small, bent weirdly, coming from the midsection of the body instead of from the shoulder. Trees that look like lollipops instead of like trees. In some small way I am helping them to communicate when spoken language fails.
They are showing improvement in their artworks. They practice daily. It is as though a light has been turned on in an inner room in their minds. “Aha!” And there is a rush to use their newly learned skills. It is beginning to pour out like a stream in spate.
We are finding that letting them unfold naturally was a wise decision. Forcing them too quickly would not have produced any fruit. Rushing to have them diagnosed with this or that disability before they had a chance to become themselves would have been tragic. We have had such a bumpy transition, and we still have days that are excruciatingly difficult. We tend to avoid suffering at all costs.
But in avoiding the suffering, we often miss the holiness and wholeness of life.
George, Nick, and Olivia looking for Bulgaria on the map
It has been almost one year. It has been a voyage of discovery for everyone. We have learned some about each other and a whole lot more about ourselves.
For many months, we just worked on how to belong to each other. For one of them, this will take all of her remaining childhood and likely much of her adulthood. We have experienced firsthand that there are no private sins. We have experienced firsthand that the wounded wound everyone around them. We have learned that where love is lacking, love will be poured out like a libation to the one who lacks. We have learned that in emptying ourselves, we need others to help fill us up – all of us. And we have learned that often, we don’t even have to ask. It is a grace that people readily respond to.
Since Michaelmas, we have been working on more academic pursuits. Our Bulgarians had never even seen a map. Olivia is completely illiterate and functionally not conversant in her native language. It was put down to a mild intellectual disability and a disability called dyslalia. We can find no evidence of either. After some questioning – and information volunteered by our kids – we have pieced together that they were utterly neglected at school. They weren’t offered anything like even a basic education. They were allowed to do as they pleased during school, including to go outside and lay or to sleep. Students aren’t promoted to the next grade based on achievement, merely on the number of years they have been ‘registered’.
Both of them are making progress – for Nick it is steady, for Olivia it is very slow and sporadic. Her focus has improved tremendously. When she first arrived, her limit was about five minutes of learning once or twice a day. Now, she will focus through a lesson whether or not she is able to understand. She seems to respond well to the increased structure of our normal homeschool routine. We hope that her regression in other areas (all social) signals a healing in progress. We are so grateful to everyone who has supported us in so many ways. Some have chosen items from our wish list, some have shared from their own treasure, some have donated funds toward our needs.
Our next project is to finish converting the carriage house to a large dedicated schoolroom. We made some wonderful progress last fall before Brian injured his back. We feel that having a dedicated space will benefit everyone, but especially Olivia because it will relieve the upheaval and confusion that comes with having to rearrange the dining room for meals, weekends, and hospitality. It is our hope that, like dressing for the job, having a dedicated space will place her – and everyone – in the proper focused state of mind, relaxed and ready to learn.
We estimate that completing demolition, replacing the fragile windows, insulating, wiring, heating and finishing the space will cost from $5000-$10000. Unfortunately, we will have to hire contractors to do the work. Brian’s 80 hour work week just doesn’t leave any time for such projects now. If you feel led to make a gift, you can do it via PayPal (firstname.lastname@example.org). If you prefer to send a gift by mail, please email us (email@example.com) and we will respond with our mailing address. Alternately, we invite you to shop with us. All proceeds support our family and ministries.
One of the most challenging aspects of parenting older (pre-teen and teen) former orphans is teaching them to rely solely on their parents for all of their needs.
A kid with attachment problems will do crazy stuff to maintain control of themselves. They will refuse meals and choose to steal instead – even garbage and animal food. And after accepting meals because they are so hungry, will steal even more later because they are angry that they accepted “help”. They will refuse to bathe, wet and soil their clothes (meaning urine and feces). They will destroy the clothing and belongings you give them. They will stand for HOURS not moving because anything else would mean that they are accepting love and hospitality from you. They will reject offers of friendship from your other kids. They will injure themselves to gain pity in hopes that someone will take them back to what they used to know, or to where they came from. You see, they had the whole system mastered “there”. They knew whom to manipulate and how and when. They will do anything. You can’t even imagine.
They’re thinking “F%^& you. I don’t need your help. I’ll do it myself. I’ll take care of myself”.
Deep down, they want and need that connection. They are at constant war with themselves. When they allow themselves to trust even for a moment, the negative behaviour escalates as they fight to regain their autonomy.
Dear friends and family of adoptive parents, these kids will manipulate you, too.
If they think they can manipulate you to get what they want, they will do it. They don’t trust you. They are using you. This is how they “take care of themselves”. Don’t offer adopted kids anything unless you have run it past their parents. This includes gifts, food, and even physical attention. Don’t offer them ‘extras’ of anything because they look like they ‘need’ it, or because she’s breaking your heart. If you show them pity and special attention, you are undermining their parents and tearing a rift in families without even knowing it. Even though it comes from a place of love. DON’T do it.
As friends and extended family, you can do your part by not playing into the drama. If the kid is looking sad and forlorn, if her face is covered in scratches or bruises, if she looks hungry or dirty, if she smells terrible, if she wears exactly the same outfit, if she keeps apart from the rest of the family… Assume FIRST that it is part of her control issues.
If you know an adoptive parent with a child like this, pray for that family. Especially for the bio kids who have taken on this kid’s trauma, and the other adoptive kids that are working so hard to leave trauma behind them. It rips the rug right out from under their secure lives and it’s a job to set it back to rights. Come to their home ready to give… to everyone. Come to organize playtime outside, make a meal, help with chores or home maintenance or a project. Help the family as a whole. And if that one kid sulks in a corner, just pretend you don’t see it. They’re going hard for manipulation. They must be enticed to join because they want connection with the entire family.
You can’t fix these kids. In the end, they have to *decide* to trust and become part of the family. As adoptive parents, we provide them with all that they need – physically, spiritually, and educationally. It is up to them to accept it.
It is a ministry, caring for kids with attachment issues. It’s hard. We give them stability when they need it but seem to thrive on upheaval. They may never have fond affection for us… we may never develop that for them. But we will take care of them for as long as they are here. And you can be part of that life-giving ministry alongside your friends or family members if you know exactly what is needed.
On a positive note, this is not the majority of older adopted kids. These issues seem to run on a continuum. Many, many more kids are adaptable and receptive. And we have been blessed with one of those, too. Thank God. Because we know we are actually making a difference when the other child can make us feel like abject failures.
It’s a miracle to behold, whether vegetable, animal, or human. It is proof positive of God’s love for His creation. He puts so much care into the unfolding of each creature’s development.
William came in to let me know that three of the four robin’s eggs had hatched. By the time I got up there with my camera, all four had finished hatching.
We have been watching another sort of unfolding here – that of our adopted daughter. She has had a terrible adjustment. Learned behaviours die hard for some kids. But new behaviours can be learned. She is learning that she is capable, that she is smart, that she can be and do whatever she wants. Slowly, she will learn her own self worth.
Some little chicks hatch later and with more difficulty. They may take a bit longer to gain strength and confidence until eventually, they are fledging. But one day, they’ll fly just like their brothers and sisters.
and Friendship must be about something, even if it were only an enthusiasm for dominoes or white mice. Those who have nothing can share nothing; those who are going nowhere can have no fellow-travellers.”
― C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves
Play mends hearts… knits them together. I love watching our children play together, especially with their two new siblings. They have done more in their innocence to bond N and O to our family than all the grown-ups with their supposed wisdom and education in the wide world.