The transition

OK, before I even start, this is a totally gratuitous photo set that has nothing to do with the subject of this post, except that this is the outfit that QQ was wearing this afternoon when we got dressed to drive down to CCAI. The dress is the one that my cousin Poppy in England sent for QQ's birthday, and which she incidentally MADE with her own two hands (Poppy, that is, not QQ)! I realized as I was shooting these pictures just how adorable the dress is...and then I couldn't stop snapping pictures. Thanks, Poppy!
Anyway...back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Today, QQ and I had to pack up a large stack of paperwork and drive the 45 minutes to south Denver to drop it off at the CCAI headquarters for filing. Yes, we could have just mailed it...but by the time I finally had it ready, I realized I was so ludicrously late submitting it that there was nothing for it but to show up, shame-faced, in person, and deliver it with a humble apology. The papers were copied of the four or five books of Chinese adoption papers that we were given on the day of QQ's official adoption in Nanjing. How late were we in submitting them to our agency, you might ask? Nearly three MONTHS late.
I know...I know. But here's the thing: first, I was sick as a dog and braindead for the first month home, thanks to the parasites QQ and I picked up in China. Then, I had a book job to complete before QQ's first surgery. And as for the surgery - well, I thought we were waiting quite long enough when we first scheduled it, but afterward I realized that we really had that surgery done very soon after coming home. Then, of course, there were the three weeks of recuperation, during which I got absolutely zero, zip, nada done other than attend to a hurting QQ.

So there we were, driving to CCAI in one of QQ's prettiest dresses in order to apologize profusely and hope that QQ could work her charms on the staff and make them forget our miserable tardiness.

In fact, she did charm the staff, by way of her huge, limpid eyes. But, really, for me, the best part was that the whole experience showed me that QQ has, in fact, made the coveted transition from her dysfunctional "social baby" status to the much more functional state of "stranger-danger".

Now, let me take a few steps back and say that there are two general categories of children who come home from institutional situations - both of them dysfunctional. One is what's called the "Velcro baby", the child who latches on instantly to one or the other of her new parents and won't have anything to do with anyone else, to the point of hysteria. The other...well, if there's a term for it I don't know it, so I'll call it the "social baby". This is the child who has learned that his or her best chance in the orphanage is to be as charming as possible to as many people as possible, thus possibly winning him/herself the maximum amount of face-time with caretakers.

Before we went to China, I for some reason assumed we would end up with a Velcro child. I also assumed that it would be my husband the child would latch onto, and not me. As it happened, I was wrong on both counts. It was clear from the beginning that QQ was the social baby. And no wonder, really - she's a natural charmer, and also a beauty. Her charm would have been her best weapon in an institutional situation. As for parental preference, I'm not sure why we got exceptionally lucky in that department, but she has from the start and still does love both of us in equal measure. This is a blessing far beyond anything I could have hoped for.

Since I had been so sure we'd have a Velcro baby, I was totally unprepared for the child who loved everyone. I hadn't run the scenarios through my head...what would I do. How would I teach her. How would we make her understand that we were her parents, for good and ever, and that others should be trusted only after thorough vetting. How would we teach her not to go willingly into the arms of any passing stranger?

As we settled in during the first weeks home it was, of course, much easier to have a social baby. She was delighted to meet each and every member of her new extended family. More importantly, since I was very, very sick for several weeks, she was happy with any family member onto whom she was passed off in those first weeks.
It also made her a lot of friends...she smiled and beamed and reached for everyone we introduced her to, and the public dropped like flies in the limelight of her charm.
But as time passed, and we got back onto our proverbial feat, I knew that this behavior had its dangers, and that things would need to change. I wondered what was the best course to take, and whether we would eventually need therapy to teach her "stranger-danger", and to help her understand the meaning of "parents".

So it was with inordinate delight that I witnessed her behavior when we stopped into CCAI today, less than four months after her arrival in the US. I had seen it happening little by little...or I thought I had. I'd seen her turn to me and grasp my hand when a neighbor stopped us on the street, where a month ago she would have reached for anyone who smiled at her. But these are small gestures, subtle signs, so it was hard to tell if it was just wishful thinking.

But at CCAI today, as I introduced her to six, seven, eight strangers, both Asian and Caucasian, she displayed a new and consistent pattern. Each time a new person walked up and smiled at her, she turned down her mouth, pulled in her hands, and drew closer to me. After a few minutes of chatting, she would give in to her natural impulse to reach out an arm to the new person, but each time that person reached for her in return, she would suddenly snatch back her hand, turn to me, and press her cheek against my chest. This is brand new behavior. And it makes my heart glad.

The whole time we were there, no matter how people cooed and grinned and reached for her, she refused to smile. Even when I egged her on, encouraged her to say Hi, tickled and jiggled her, she refused to crack a single grin for the strangers. As soon as we walked outside and I set her in her car seat, however, the sun came out again, and she beamed at me.

It may not sound so miraculous to the casual observer, this sort of thing. But to me - after reading all the books, taking all the classes on attachment, it feels like a miracle. I am so utterly amazed and gratified that, after not much more than twelve weeks home, she has actually recognized M and I as her parents, and made the mental leap that tells her we are "home" and other people are "strangers". I really can hardly believe my eyes.
Incidentally, you may have noticed a preponderance of photos in front of a certain red door recently. I have realized that our humble "mud room" has easily the best light in the entire house, so every time QQ has on a particularly good outfit, I set her to playing in that tiny space.
This last collage is my ode to the mud room...a room with a humble name, but a glorious illumination.


Anonymous said...

That is how good ole' attachment works. Granted, the process usually takes a year but it seems she gets it with you guys.

Those are very cute pictures of her just chilling around.

Lost and Found said...

I am SO loving that dress. It's amazing how they transform. E has become more discrete with her affections which for me was a good sign of her really involved in the attachment process.

Stacie said...

this is great news!!!! Z too was a charmer (indiscriminately affectionate) especially with men (imagine the fright it caused me when she ran into the arms of strange men) but is quite reserved now. btw our attachment therapist told us this is almost always the last of the "disordered" behaviors to go away and do not worry too much if she hangs on to it for awhile!

lisa said...

A friend whose 6 yo, adopted at 1 from China, is in therapy, recently shared with me a different perspective on the social baby. In classic attachment, it has been interpreted as looking for the next caregiver. Her therapist suggested that it may be more establishing the safety factor of all the people in her environment. My friend, btw, works for an adoption agency and her therapist is a specialist in adoption. She has posted this information on APC.

This makes sense to me, because S is comfortable with strangers while still velcro with me. And she loves papa and adores their frequent full day hikes alone together (while I get work done ; )-yet never does the velcro stuff with him.

Absolutely love that dress-or at least, QQ in that dress! ~lmc

Diane said...

I know you're talking about QQ but she sound so much like my little guy. Loves us equally...check. Stranger/danger..check. I will say, tho, and you may experience this, too, shortly, recently little A has started with very intense separation anxiety. His heart just breaks (and then so does mine) when I have to leave him. He's fine 2 minutes later, but it's tough to watch cry so intently.

Yoli said...

I posted the same thing a little while ago in my blog. My little boy was the social butterfly, a smile to every stranger and open arms. Then when we went to take photos two and half weeks ago, he would have nothing with the stranger. I finally could breath a sigh of relief.

Oh wow and you are only three months late. I have a social worker who will not return calls and an agency who does not seem to mind that 7 months have passed by with no update.

Vivian M said...

I have to agree that QQ looks amazing in that outfit from Poppy! But what is a mud room? Never heard that expression.
And I think it's wonderful that she is starting to display attachment behaviours. I am always amazed at how fast our kids learn to love and trust and just be in the moment. Even if you put them in a room full of mud, sheesh!

Beverly said...

that really is wonderful!!! she is so cute.

Stefanie said...

Happy Day! What a wonderful discovery... QQ knows her mama, and doesn't want anyone else :) What a big milestone! Celebrating your girl with you!!

Cavatica said...

I could have written the same thing about BB. She followed the exact same course. She is more attached as time goes by - and we to her, if that's possible. So often when I read your posts, it just brings me back to several months ago. Amazing.

Elaine said...

Good job QQ.
My first was a 'social baby' and the second a total velcro baby - still is sometimes. The first hit her attachment milestones much faster and is a well adjusted almost 7 year old now. I forsee good things for QQ

Jan said...

Naturally, a beautiful girl should wear an equally beautiful dress, although, QQ looks beautiful no matter what she wears!!
Isn't it just wonderful how QQ is attached to you!
We are experiencing the same situation with our Jillian. She equally loves and recognizes both John and mysef as Mama and Dada. She also recognizes her Papa, Aunt Debra and Nana, as well as, the driveway home and at Papa's house. Also becoming more reserved with strangers.
It does our hearts good to see these beautiful children thriving with their families.

kris said...

wow- the changes she has grown through- amazing. time is the key and amazing parenting. reading nic's comment made me feel better- i had no idea it could take that long.

crazylady said...

It's hard for family members who might have the tendency to think we're making a big deal out of nothing when the kids appear so happy and well adjusted. No one believes the "coping strategy" theory in family and friend circles. When we stomp our foot and say "it's not a good thing" to be indiscriminately friendly, they say we use the Adoption card too often.
Ourselves, we had velcros. Still do, somewhat. And they look miserable. Which upsets family and friends to see, suggesting we're doing something wrong and they're not happy/social. It's tough, on either side. Our friends all have social gregarious children. And they still battle their families when they try to rein the kids back to them.