You know, I worried so long and hard over attachment issues before we met QQ. I studied and read and pondered and braced myself. I tried to thicken my own skin, preparing myself for any kind of difficulty that our daughter might have as she grew accustomed to us, to her past, and to her new life.
In fact, it has been so much easier than I ever imagined. We all three had the right "chemistry". We fell easily into a happy life as a family. Joy has been in the forefront from the start. Still, from time to time I revisit those thoughts in my mind, and wonder how far we've come, what ground we still have to cover, and how much distance still exists between us and her.
QQ is so very open, so very affectionate, and above all so utterly, intensely, patently happy, that it would be easy to forget that we have only been a family for nine months...that she was abandoned by her birth parents (something that she will someday revisit in her mind, over and over again, no doubt)...that she spent her first 11 months in an institution.
QQ is very affectionate with us. She is very open with people in general, and always willing to give the benefit of the doubt. She is neither naturally fearful nor naturally resentful. As she enters the "terrible twos", she is quite naturally learning to exercise her objections - to rail against us when we deny her something she wants, to object stringently to the word "no". Still, even as she learns to pout and to frown (two new developments over the past couple of weeks), she is always willing to relent and turn the scowl into a giggle and a joke if you give her half a chance. I think this is a talent of hers (it isn't easy to relent, to turn a hissy-fit into a giggle fest. It takes confidence and humility, and I find that very encouraging).
Still I know there are ways in which she remains different from a child born into the stability and comfort of a birth family. For instance, she knows the words "mommy" and "daddy" very well. But she also sometimes uses them (or the signs for them) to indicate an adult male or female other than us. She will not go to another adult automatically at this point...she learned her way out of that dysfunction early on. She knows that M. and I are the ones to trust, the safety zone. She will look for our cue before she warms to another person. But she still will sometimes give the sign for "mommy" or "daddy" in relation to an adult male or female in a picture. This tells me that she has not completely grasped the concept of mother and father.
She also goes back and forth on the issue of physical displays of affection. She has learned to kiss, and un-learned it, time and again. Partly, this has to do with the relative discomfort of her mouth as she passes through her various surgeries and recoveries. Partly, I think it is also a learning process.
These days, she sometimes uses physical affection as a tool for manipulation. For instance, if I'm carrying her around and she wants something, and I'm not paying close enough attention, she will sometimes take my face in her hands and kiss me on the nose or mouth. As soon as she has my full attention, she'll then ask in sign language for whatever it is she wants. She has learned that a kiss is the surest and quickest way to get my undivided attention.
Even so, there are times when I find her hugging me close or pressing her cheek against mine for no reason whatsoever. That's when I know true affection has come over her.
Her happiness is the thing that reassures me the most. It bubbles up in her like a wellspring. It turns up the corners of her mouth and plumps her cheeks even when she is daydreaming or zoning out. She glows with it. It stretches her skin from the inside and makes her shine. You can see it in her eyes, her lips, the dancing of her little feet when she's excited. She even smiles and sometimes chuckles softly in her sleep. There is no question that she is happy, and I can't help but feel that as long as that is the case, she will continue to progress in the right direction.
Still, you can see the orphanage in her from time to time. She's a scrapper. She's a survivor. She's a little too tough for a 19-month-old. She's competitive and knows how to use her charm as a tool. If she is hurt, she's ready to fight before she's ready to be comforted.
When you can see it the most clearly, I think, is when she is awakened unexpectedly from a nap. She's a world-class napper and can sleep through almost anything. Sometimes, I have to wake her so that she doesn't sleep through too much of the afternoon. When I do - and this is really a spectacle worth beholding - she shoots to her feet like a Navy Seal on a mission. She goes from zero to sixty in under two seconds. She can be lying limp and loose, soundly, deeply asleep, and shoot directly into the air, landing on her feet in a half-crouch, arms out to each side as if ready for a fight, gaze shooting keenly around the room as if expecting a hidden enemy.
My husband describes this as:
"Wha?......Who?......I'll cut you!...Oh, hi Mommy."
And that's really what it looks like.
We sometimes joke that she sleeps with one eye open and a knife under her pillow.
She is a self-confident kid and that has served her well in her process of adaptation. It makes me glad that she has enough faith in herself to believe in her own powers of self-defense. Life throws curve balls at you sometimes, and a survivor has an advantage. I won't try to coddle that fighting spirit out of her. Some day, she will need it.