8/29/08

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes


I can't believe we've only been home with Flynn for three weeks...it feels like we have all been through so much growth and change! We have come to be so much more at ease as a family, and it's hard to pinpoint when that happened. We have gone from stunned strangers thrown together in foreign lands to exhausted strangers just trying to survive from hour to hour with one another to...abruptly, or so it seems...a family, waking and sleeping, laughing and moving through our days together as if (really, almost as if) we were like that from the start.

In our first days with QQ, I didn't know - I couldn't imagine - how we would make the leap from complete strangers to family. I wondered how it felt to give birth to a child, how different it might be, what I was missing. I wondered whether that creature that lived for nine months inside you could feel like a stranger at first, too. I wondered how I would know, when I would feel that we had meshed, when we would be familiar to one another. I wondered when I would feel like her mother. Because, folks, here's the thing: the reality is that in the beginning...you don't. You feel like a fraud, a stand-in, an understudy. Which isn't to say that it isn't amazing, that there isn't joy in it. But in the beginning you are going through the motions, running blind. No matter how prepared, no matter how educated, you "do" what a mother does, but in the beginning you are just reading lines off a page. It is very, very strange.

I wish I could tell you the moment when I felt like her mother, when she felt like my daughter, when we became at ease with one another. Honestly, I'm surprised it happened so quickly. Yes, we still have a long way to go. But we have that ease, that comfort level, and I think it's something I expected to struggle much harder to achieve.
I read about mothers who just could not bond with their children - for whom that "alien" feeling went on far, far longer before something broke and the floodgates opened. I heard of children who reject their parents time and again, whose parents had to fight a long uphill battle, sometimes for years, in order to earn the love and trust of their child.
Don't get me wrong, I know that there will still be times when we lose ground, when our progress seems to go into reverse gear, when she tests us more rigorously than she has yet tested us, when she doubts and resents us. But for all the good faith that she has given us so far, so quickly, I am so, so very grateful.

Here are the some of the changes that we have gone through thus far:

- Flynn has begun in recent days to act much more like a "normal kid". In the beginning, as a first-time parent and an only child myself, I had no benchmark for what a normal 11-month-old should act like. I didn't have a clue how to tell what was her personality, and what was the result of her circumstances. Some things seemed as if they might be behavioral ticks engendered by the orphanage. Occasionally, she seemed disconnected or unnaturally blasé in a way that made me think she was reacting to being very, very overwhelmed. But she is such a trooper, such a survivor and such a good spirit that nothing seemed terribly pronounced - nothing felt horribly wrong. So the lines were a bit blurry. But as time goes on, I can see her relaxing on a daily basis. I can feel the ease wash over her. I can see her smiles get broader and looser, her cheeks brighter, her joy more intense. I can see her reserve giving way, her barriers crumbling. As this process goes on, I can see the restrictions of her institutionalization melt away one by one. In her laughter, in her responses, in the way she watches us and picks things up, I can see the normal, ordinary kid come out in her, and it makes me glad.

- She sleeps through the night more often than not now. And she still has never woken in a terror. It amazes me that she hasn't. She wakes happy and smiling unless we wake her by force when she hasn't had her fill of rest (like when we have to interrupt a nap) but even then, she seems more put-out than really upset. She seems to be saying, "Seriously? How dare you. The nerve!" But there is no glassy terror, no lack of recognition. She knows where she is, who we are, who she is and what her rights are. She is well and truly grounded in her reality.

- She has learned to play on her own for good stretches of time. This is a HUGE breakthrough. As soon as we got home, and she began to realize she could command our attention at will, she could not be left alone for more than a few moments at a time. She did not need to be held constantly - she would play with us sitting next to her - but if we walked away more than a few feet, she would complain almost immediately, and would not be appeased until we returned and focused our full attention on her. She wanted our constant presence, proximity, and undivided focus. Even if I sat right next to her on the floor and tried to do something else (like write thank-you cards for our shower gifts or, say, blow my nose) she noticed that my attention was not on her, and she complained bitterly until I turned my eyes back to her.

What made the difference? It was really quite simple. We bought a pack-and-play. I thought that it might allow me to do things like laundry and dishes once my mum was gone and M. was back in school. My mother doubted that it would work, since she remembers me objecting strongly to a "play pen" when I was a toddler - I did not like to be fenced in. But Flynn took to it immediately. Suddenly, she was content to play quietly on her own, cooing to herself, even smiling magnanimously at us when we walk by. Suddenly, we could walk away from her, cook a meal, do dishes, use the bathroom, even take a shower. My theory is that, after spending no less than eleven months almost entirely in a crib except for feeding time, she is not comfortable without some form of physical boundary. Maybe being left on her own in some area of the house, even if she's within sight of us, she did not feel entirely at ease. Maybe it just felt wrong to her. The pack-and-play has enough space for her to play freely and move about, but enough of limits that she feels safe. That's my guess, for what it's worth. In any case, we are extremely glad that we tried it! For an SAHM, there is nothing like solid periods of quiet play to keep one's level of sanity intact!

- And then there's that ease between us that I mentioned. It's difficult to define, but I see it in the way she falls back into my lap without looking, in the way she wraps her arms or legs around my limbs quite casually when we're playing. I see it in her quick and easy smiles, in her more and more frequent eye contact, and in the way she begins to imitate me. I see it in the facial "play" she instigates with me when I'm feeding her: she still eats reclining in the crook of my arm, and for the first part of the bottle she just focuses intently on the food. But by the time her stomach begins to fill, those bright-black eyes turn directly to me and I see the mischief begin to sparkle there. She'll scrunch her nose, smile broadly around the nipple of her bottle to make sure I'm paying attention, and then go through her entire litany of expressions: Groucho-Marx-style eyebrow waggles, wacky, squinchy winks, wide-eyed looks of faux-astonishment...the works. If I make faces back, this game can go on for fifteen minutes or longer.
Another very good sign is that she now reaches up her arms for me if I offer to pick her up. In the beginning she was very passive - she would fuss and cry in order to be picked up, but she would not reach out for us. The most recent addition to her pattern of relating to me is that, while in her "quiet play" mode, she will suddenly turn to me and reach an arm out. I'll then reach my arm out in return, and she'll place the flat of her hand on my palm. This accomplished, she'll give me a huge, melting grin... and then go back to her private game. I love this.

- She has developed a real, hearty laugh, which she uses with me, but even more frequently with M. I can hardly blame her - he's by far the better comedian. I think that M's process of bonding with her has been different than mine. I can't speak for him, but what I see is that he has always been at ease with kids. As the eldest child in a big family, he has always been comfortable around little ones, and he takes nothing personally. His comfort and pleasure in the presence of children doesn't depend on their reaction to or approbation of him - he is just at ease, and that in turn puts them at ease. For me, it was different. I needed to see her reaction to me before I could really open up and be myself. So my progress with her was more cautious, more tentative, more watchful. When I saw that she trusted me, that she was willing and ready to have fun with me, when she not only allowed but actually began to seek out my affection, that's when my relationship with her really opened up and bloomed.

- Also, M and I have finally hit our stride as co-parents. In the beginning, there was an edginess, a tendency toward oversensitivity...not so much with her, but between he and I. We were each afraid that the other was judging our parenting style and finding it wanting. That made us quick to snap at one another, quick to take offense. There was also - and this is a big, big thing - the fear that we would lose what we had had as a couple. Suddenly, we were like those proverbial ships that pass in the night. He had night shift and I had morning shift, and since neither of us was getting enough sleep, we only saw eachother for a few harried, pale, grim-faced minutes during "the hand off".
Again, I can't speak for M, but for me it was frightening, like the rug had been yanked out from under me. I was afraid we'd never really be together again. We are very "together" people in our relationship, and suddenly all that was snatched out from under us. In my imagination, I had pictured us as a happy family of three - with Flynn exponentially increasing our collective happiness. Instead, it felt like we were a family of two and two, never meeting in the middle. It was a brief but painful time, and I am infinitely relieved to find us falling into the happy threesome that I had imagined. More at ease in our routines with her, we are no longer so sensitive, and we don't challenge one another the way we did in the beginning. Our dance of parenthood is much more smooth and seamless. We know when to expect the rough times, and they no longer threaten us the way they did in the beginning. This is when the real sharing begins, and the real pleasure in ourselves as a family.

- Finally, let me address that grieving for my former life that I admitted to a while back: I'm happy to report that it's gone. Again, I'm surprised that it passed so quickly. When I try to recall it, it seems like a night shadow - a figment conjured by stress, sickness and lack of sleep. It's venom has been drawn, and it's nothing but a husk now - an empty shell of a silly, outdated fear. The closet door has been opened, the light switched on, and I can plainly see that there is no monster concealed within. What has replaced it, in the daylight of my new maternal happiness, is a titillating sense of fresh and unexpected adventures to come. Where I once mourned my time on the road with my beloved dog as a sidekick, now I see on the horizon adventures that I will have with Flynn...just her and me. Of course, we will also have adventures as a family (when time allows...this will be a busy year, but we will have more leisure in the future). But when I see what a good traveler she is, when I see how easy it actually is to pack up my diaper bag, put her in the car seat and hit the road, I begin to really look forward to the adventures that she and I will share. She is a good and worthy companion for me - fearless, unsqueamish, and always up for a new horizon. I have nothing to mourn...I have much to anticipate!
Life. Is. Good.

12 comments:

Tami said...

This post gave me such joy to read. I am coming in very late, just having checked out your blog for the first time yesterday, but I must admit, I've been poring over it, trying to catch up the amazing journey you have all been on. I'm a novice at this, too, you know, but every thing your wrote here screams "mother" to me. You are a natural, Maia.

kerri said...

I love your honesty, your raw emotion, you are not candy coating the whole experience.
There are some major adjustments in the beginning when we bring our girls home, it takes it's toll in the beginning(even on the most solid foundations). Your tired, your changing lifestyles, schedules, ect.
But eventually as sleep is caught up and the ebbs and tides of everyday life start get back to normal, things smooth out and it is pure bliss.
Thanks for your honesty,your one wonderful Mom, congrats....

kris said...

Oh how these words have made my heart SO FULL. I am bursting with YOUR happiness, YOUR peace, and the joy that has been found in your family of 3. I could see the faces she was making during feeding time, imagine clearly those more difficult days of the hand-off, picture the horizons and the desert- you and Flynn exploring the world on mom and daughter trips, see her happily playing in her pack-n-play, or reaching out her hand to you just to place it in yours- as if, only, to be sure of you- or, better yet- to be sure you are sure of EACH other...

You have such a gift. I feel like I'm reading a book and IN THE SCENE. You should consider writing a memoir of your adoption journey...

Juliette said...

That beautiful picture tells it all Maia! Just cheers to the new adventures to come and your amazing journey together!

A Beautiful Mess said...

Life is good:)

Life is filled with transitions and you and M and your little Flynn are making the together!

I can totally relate to the couple time....sigh. It is so important to be able to share with your partner when you are feeling disconnected. A happy mommy and daddy make for a happy family, not always the other way around. When Ben and Hannah were little we would tell them that we needed "husband and wife" time. Sounds corny, but I think it taught them that everything wasn't all about them all the time, and that mommy and daddy needed time too. It isn't always easy to find that time, often it is just a movie and snuggled up on the couch.

Makes me happy to see the three of you so happy!

tiffany said...

This is wonderful to read.

I hope one of your upcoming adventures with Flynn will be a little drive our direction!

Heather said...

AHhhh, change is good. It's wonderful to see you embracing all you have and appreciating every moment along the way.

Carrie said...

wow so glad to see someone write and talk about the realty of adoption instead of the fantasy of it all! Yes I agree so much and can identify with it. even though Miss M is 7. they all must go through these stages of transition I guess. Thank you so much!

Mom-of-Bean said...

Just to give you the birthmother perspective...I remember clearly how foreign this little being was to me, a good 3 months AFTER birth, even though I carried him around inside of me for nine...motherhood is a journey not a status you acquire through birth...we're on it.

fourlittlehawks said...

Yes, I can also chime in from the perspective of a birthmother. I went through this process with each of my biological children, and each of my adopted children. There is just this moment when all of the sudden you "KNOW" them in the intimate way that only a mother can know a child. You don't know exactly when that happened, or how - but it is such a relief to feel that natural rythm occur between you and them. I'm so glad you've found your Mommy Groove!

Love,
Jen

Vivian M said...

My heart is full. I am so happy to read this post!

Beverly said...

We hit a nice stage in our outings where a stroller is no longer necessary at the zoo. It is so much more freeing. Love the update on Flynn. She is adorable as usual.