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Adjustment to Adoption

this story originally appeared in a SPA newletter in 1994

 

Dee came to live with me just before her fourth birthday. For me, it was all gain. A beautiful, talented daughter joined me. For her, a beloved foster family was lost while she gained a novice mom, and for her foster family, a daughter was lost. She had been with them almost three years.

It's not easy to get a new mom. Oh, it was exciting when there were visits and celebrations and gifts but when the final good-bye was said to the only family she remembered, it was sobering. The realization came with the negative answer to the question, "Are you going to take me back to my family?"

"I didn't want to be adopted. I just wanted you to visit." This I heard frequently over a period of weeks. It would come out of the blue, even when we were having good times. It was heart-wrenching to realize the pain she was experiencing. But Dee's soul-deep sobs were the worst.

A few days after she had come to stay, her "old adopted"* mom and sister came for a visit. When they left, the sobs poured out. She didn't want any comfort from me. After all, I was the cause of her agony. The most I could do was bring her her favourite doll and blankie and stay nearby. When she could listen I told her that I knew it was difficult to get a new mom and I told her of the time my own parents had left me at boarding school. I was crying and I think it helped that she could see my strong emotion. I kind of wish her foster mom had let her see her tears too, so she would have realized how much she was missed. She eventually fell asleep, waking in anger a few hours later. She threw her doll away, kicked everything off the couch and refused to carry on with plans.

A later visit to her "old adopted" caused a similar out-pouring of grief. This time Dee cried all the way home for her daddy. I wished I wasn't driving and could take her in my arms until I remembered she wouldn't have accepted my comfort anyway. At least I was close by.

After a recent visit with a member of her "old adopted", I realize how much Dee's bonding to me. She was snuggled up in my lap and said, "I miss Paul." How different from rejecting my comfort in her earlier pain. And the last time the family visited, instead of being totally ignored, I was included in her chatter and at one point even hugged. It's a heart-warming development.

   

I'm so glad to be able to keep in contact with her foster family. They are lovely people and have been able to give me a lot of information and advice about Dee. It means Dee can continue to see people she loves dearly.

As well as her new grandparents, all the members of her "old adopted" family came for her fourth birthday, about two weeks after she came to live with me. It was a very happy occasion with no tears. There were gifts, balloons, and a Barbie cake. We all went swimming, one of Dee's favourite activities, and she basked in the love and attention she received.

Only a few days later we had a horrible day. Everything I suggested was vetoed. If I did anything for Dee it was wrong. If I gave her bread, she wanted toast. I put the wrong clothes on her Barbie, I put her water wings on wrong, I looked at her wrong. It went on ALL day. As I put her to bed that night, she said, "Today was not a good day."

"Let's have a better one tomorrow," I said. But that night I wondered if I had made a mistake in taking Dee. It wasn't that I simply disliked the behaviour - I knew I couldn't tolerate it. Was it caused by confusion over her new status or what? The next morning started out the same way. Finally, in exasperation, I blurted out, "Mommy's not having any fun. You don't like anything I do." It made her stop and think and things got better. Later, I called her foster mom and she laughed and said, "Oh, if Dee's acting that way, I think she's settling in. That's just what she's like." Relieved, I knew then and there what I would do about it. If she was going to live with me, she'd have to stop that behaviour. Next time she complained that her water wings weren't right, I said, "Well, I've done the best I can," and swam away. She swam after me and we had fun. And so it went. It was an advantage being the only one dealing with her as she had no one else to turn to to continue her game.

It's been delightful getting to know Dee. She's friendly, bright, eager, trusting, loving, sentimental, imaginative, reasonable and honest. She can fight for herself and won't let anyone take advantage of her. She's also stubborn and a fussy eater. There have been so many delightful episodes. Like one day in a store, Dee quite unselfconsciously did a little dance and sang, "I love my mommy and my mommy loves me."

Another time we went to the Parents Show. Dee was disappointed because she thought it was the Parrot Show. She kept asking, "Where are they, where are they?"

I was concerned when, after five weeks of living with me, Dee suddenly wanted a bottle. She started crawling and talking baby talk. One day she wanted me to burp her and when I didn't do it right, she put the blanket over my shoulder for me! It was her social worker who was a big help at this time. She phoned and told me not to worry, explaining that Dee was trying to start over with me and needed to be a baby and go through some of the growth steps with me. She gave some useful suggestions and a few days later came for a visit and assured me that things seemed to be going well. I was greatly encouraged.

I've been thinking over Dee's gains. In the almost four months since she came to stay, she's grown an inch, she's been toilet trained, she's started school (Jr. Kindergarten) and she's learned to swim on her own.

Now I must return to work - even the 15 weeks parental leave that Unemployment Insurance (generously and surprisingly) gave me come to an end - and I have to give her up to another caregiver. That's harder than I expected and the first day I left her, Dee was very angry. But we will cope and hopefully, thrive as we've done up to now.

How long and frustrating the wait for a child was. Yet now, I'm glad I waited because this specific, delightful girl came to live with me.

*"Old adopted" is Dee's term for her foster family.

January, 1994

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