EXPECTATION: Because I did so much reading, talking to adoptive families of older children, praying, researching, etc., I thought I'd be more confident in how to handle each situation.
REALITY: I am constantly second-guessing myself and my decisions. Just like babies, every child is so different that not one can be treated "by the book." I continuously battle questions such as Are we bonding quickly enough? Should I give her more space? Do I teach her more English phrases today or is she overwhelmed? Do I lay down the law now or go easy with her for a few more weeks?
EXPECTATION: Given that Caroline is 12 years old, I thought she might more easily grasp the truth that I repeatedly tell Grace and Carter: "Mommy always comes back."
REALITY: Knowing her background of being abandoned at nearly 2, leaving beloved caretakers at the orphanage at 5 to join a foster family, being adopted domestically and then going back to the foster family two weeks later, and then leaving the foster family she has loved for 7 years, this girl probably has more heartache, insecurity, doubts, fears, confidence, and courage than I could ever imagine. This past weekend, she asked Scott how "we could love a random stranger." We explained to her that we have loved her for months, and we also choose to love her and nurture her. Last night, when I asked Caroline if she believed that we love her, she responded on Google Translate with "That bad." When I asked what was bad, she replied that she might lose us again one day. My heart skipped several beats as I realized that she still has fears that she'll lose her forever family. She finds it "bad" to believe in our love and to return our love because she thinks it's necessary to protect her heart. Deep down, she fears that we'll leave her. It had been a rough day, so I assured her that no matter what she does or says, even if she is really angry or rude to me, we will love her and will never leave her. She is our daughter forever. Her response was, "that would be best of course."
EXPECTATION: I knew food would be an issue, as nearly all Chinese people find American food hard to adapt to. Chinese food typically doesn't include butter, cream, cheese, herbs, or seasonings, so meals can taste incredibly foreign to them. Just as some Chinese delicacies might make us bite our lips and cringe.
REALITY: I have been making HUGE meals with the hopes that at least two items would appeal to Caroline's taste buds. Some nights, she hasn't liked anything I've prepared. I wanted her to be honest and tell me her true opinions, but when she has (and even made a gagging motion after tasting my chicken pot pie!), the flesh in me wanted to stomp away and let her go hungry. HOW HORRIBLE IS THAT??? Even when I know she may not like the meal and I totally understand where she is coming from, I find it difficult to not take it personally and to stifle my sinful reactions. I have to remind myself that I would make a gagging motion too if I were taken to China at age 12 and given chicken feet for dinner. I took Caroline to an Asian supermarket and we stocked up on some Chinese ingredients, snacks, and noodles. And really, she has done so well trying and eating new foods. She strives to not be picky, and even when she gives honest feedback, she is not being rude at all.
EXPECTATION: Given Caroline's affection and enthusiasm in China, I anticipated being best buds when we returned home. I dreamed of spending time together reading her bilingual books, bowling on the Wii, watching So You Think You Can Dance, playing games, learning English and Mandarin phrases, and more.
REALITY: I lost my cool factor pretty quickly. When we're in my minivan, she sits all the way in the back even when it's just the two of us! :) She hasn't really wanted to spend time with me. She has preferred reading, watching Chinese movies, and some crafts. While I candidly share my dreams, I also knew it was unrealistic to expect that closeness. But even when you have realistic expectations, the reality is harder to embrace when it arrives. I talked to one mom on the phone last night who adopted a 12 year-old from China two weeks before us. She has so much wisdom and insight, and she shared that her daughter responded the same way. She suggested that both girls might have become scared when they realized they were starting to fall in love with their new families. Maybe they even feel guilty for loving a new family when they loved their foster families. And just maybe they're freaking out and pulling back because they don't know how to process their emotions. I know that Caroline and I will continue to bond in time. Twelve is a difficult age because kids still long for the comfort and boundaries from their parents while also feeling the need to spread their wings and test their independence. A hopeful sign that we're progressing in attachment is that every morning this week when I have dropped Caroline off at ESL camp (English Second Language), she has looked back at me right before walking in. She wants to be sure I am watching her and that I am still there. I hope to entice her to cook with me this weekend, as she has expressed interest in preparing some of her Chinese favorites.
EXPECTATION: With China's Communist history and mentality, I assumed parents had strict regulations and rules.
REALITY: We just learned from a Chinese friend that since the government cracks down so hard, parents usually don't censor much. One of Caroline's frustrations is that she feels "over-regulated" because we limit her time on the internet, we don't allow food in her room, and we have forbidden her to read comics online. While the anime comics are very popular with tweens and teens in China, many of the stories are incredibly violent, provocative, and inappropriate. However, the whole concept of parents censoring media is new to our daughter so it seems abnormally unfair to her. I never expected censorship to be one of our first battles! But the flip side is that Caroline loves to read good books and has finished two classics in three days.
EXPECTATION: That Grace and Caroline would form a tight bond very quickly.
REALITY: It's Carter and Caroline who have clicked immediately. Grace has really taken to her big sister too but it's so sweet to observe how much Carter and Caroline enjoy each other. Yesterday, Carter climbed into Caroline's bed so they could each read their books. He is also very protective of her. EVERY time we get in the car, he says, "Remember your seatbelt Caroline! In America, it's the law." (In China, no one wears seatbelts.) Last week, when we dropped Carter off at his grandparents to spend the night, he stopped playing and ran up to his big sister before we left. He held up his pointer finger, saying, "Remember your seatbelt!"
It's been a hard week in that we've had to establish more boundaries, discuss disobedience, and face our tween's sadness and frustration. But we've also had sweet moments, laughter, hugs, and breakthroughs in understanding. My heart melts every time I hear Caroline's sweet voice call "Mommy." I continue to pray for wisdom and discernment to know when to push her forward or when to step back. I want to be more affectionate without smothering her. I want to encourage her to open up without prying too much. I want to make our authority as her parents clear without appearing too harsh. Sometimes I just wish she would let her walls come down and cry in my arms. Then I remind myself that we've only been home two weeks. We have a long road ahead, and we're with her on this journey to eternity. She's stuck with us!