Older child adoption is harder than I thought it would be. Which is funny, because going into this last adoption, I had read all the books, talked with other adoptive families, read all the blogs, etc.... and I KNEW it was going to be hard. I prepared for the worst, in fact. But living it? Huh. Living it is an entirely different thing.
Kira is not the worst case scenario. In fact, she is far from it. She is amazing. She is adventurous, sweet-spirited, loving, generous, full of life, and she seems like she truly WANTS to be here. That is big, people, BIG. So why the hard then?
Adopting an infant, you are given a piece of paper (if you are lucky) detailing the facts known about your new child. Usually the report will include nothing more than date found, living family, POSSIBLY cause of death of parents (again, if you are lucky), and maybe the child's weight. (We didn't even have that!) You go into infant adoption anticipating "gotcha day" as this romantic encounter in which a cute child that looks vastly different than you is placed unknowingly into your arms and hopefully won't cry out of shear terror. You? You will be a sobbing mess as you welcome this precious little one into your life. You've dreamed of this moment. You've longed to feel that baby's hand around your finger, to look into their eyes as you feed them their bottle, to wipe their tears, to be their "savior" when they cry in the middle of the night. After all, they never had that. They deserve that. You will be that. And they will love you for it.....or at least you hope.
Now we come to adopting the older child. You are given the same piece of paper documenting their history. Knowing their age, the information never seems to be enough. You long for the holes to be filled. You know there is more to the story and wonder who is holding out on you. You still feel the same feelings of this child being "yours", and you can't wait to welcome them into your arms. But when the day actually arrives and you see them face to face, you realize the playing field is vastly different. This child is not an unknowing infant. No. You see this child coming toward you, this child with fear in his/her eyes. They've been told what is happening. They know their world is about to be turned upside down and inside out. They want to be excited because surely you will be better than what they have now, but they are scared to death all at the same time. You see their fear and realize in that moment how terrified you yourself are...and that they too see your fear. Your heart stops in this moment of complete awe and wonder over this beautiful child mixed with complete fear of the unknown. (This mixed feeling won't go away for a really long time.) Will I ever be enough for this child? They might not love me.
Fast forward to the homecoming and the months afterwards. The older child now has to learn an entirely different life. A new language, a new family, everyone looks different, the food is different, their friends are different, the sounds and smells are different....but mostly??? Mostly Mama (and sometimes Daddy) are different. And that is hard. See, because the older child has memories. Their story isn't just what the agency gave you on paper. Their story has been the years of their life leading up to you. Years of unknown. Years of joy and sorrow that had nothing to do with you. And that will, at times. feel very strange. Their story is locked up in their mind and soul. And it is up to them to trust you with their wonderful, amazing and hard story as they see fit.
As the adult, you may have the tendency to see the way this little one responds, and you will psycho-analyze their every move. You will wonder if they are responding out of fear, grief, confusion, anger, manipulation, or purely the desire to appease you. You will do this every moment of every day until you exhaust yourself. It will only take about a month to exhaust yourself before you yourself go into "dis-regulated" mode. (Disclaimer, not every adult will do this...but moms??? Beware. You most likely will. It's what we do. We take it all on and think it is our fault, and gosh-darn-it, we WILL NOT screw up our kids, so we MUST get to the bottom of it.) It doesn't take long before your insane tendencies (remember folks, the definition of insane is, "doing the same things over and over again expecting different results"...AKA: parents. ha!) will drive your child into an an equally dis-regulated state of being and you will begin this odd dance with your child.
Your child will long to trust you because it is what children do. You will long to have your child love you, because it is what parents do. But both of you know their is no guarantee. And both of you have your guard up most of the time. You are trying to teach new rules, and the child will be trying to decide if it is worth it to follow them. You will be trying to figure out how to love the child in the way they need it, and the child will be trying to decide if they will receive it. You will be asking for every detail of the story you can squeeze out of your new son/daughter, and the child will be trying to decide if they trust you enough with it....if it's worth trusting you. And most of the time - none of this will be pretty. You will take things personal, and your child will long for what was before they were "orphaned". Wouldn't you?
Pretty picture, huh? I know, maybe this all falls under the "worst-case-scenario" picture. But even in all the good that is, there is a level of truth to all that I just said - and that is hard. As parents, we aren't wired to undo harm. We're wired to protect from harm. As children, they aren't designed to fear the world around them, especially their story. They are wired to love and trust and belong. And when the wires are crossed, or even worse - broken...well, it's just hard.
So here we are. Almost 9 months since we left for Uganda to meet Kira. Wow. 9 months? I keep telling people 6. Anyway... I won't lie. We've had our ups and downs. People will ask me if I've "bonded" with Kira. I tell them yes...but with the disclaimer that either I haven't bonded with any of my kids or I don't understand what bonding means...because my bonding isn't in a feeling. My "bonding" is in the choice I made when she became my daughter...before she became my daughter, really. I CHOSE to love her then, and every single day - in the hard days and in the good days - I CHOOSE to love her still. I also am often asked if she has bonded with us. To which I say yes, but with the disclaimer that she too must CHOOSE as much as any 7 year old can figure out how to choose to love us. Some days I do better than others, and some days so does she. As the adoptive parent, it is up to me to put my fears aside, to deal with my shortcomings (which are many), to put aside what is "natural" to me in parenting in order to take a hold of what she needs. I'm not good at that. She's trusting us more and more with her story. And her story is hard. I feel ill-equipped to love her the way she needs to be loved with the hope of ever covering the pain she has had to endure. But maybe that is the thing - maybe I'm not supposed to love her enough to cover the pain. Maybe I'm just supposed to love her in her pain...no matter how she loves me in return, no matter what I do for her, no matter how deep her hurt goes, no matter how much I want her to love me, maybe I'm just supposed to love her. Yup, that's probably it. Because as I recall, that's a small glimpse of how Jesus loves me.
I wouldn't change this story for the world. Well...unless changing the story meant that Kira could be with her Mama still. Then I'd change it - because that was always plan "A". But as for plan "B"? I wouldn't change it. I'm so thankful she is here. I think that anyone considering adoption should consider older child adoption. It will be hard. It will mess up your world. There will be no normal anymore. You may or may not get anything in return. But this child who is wired to be a child and wired to feel the love of family and the security that comes through love - the children are worth it all.