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Monday, May 19, 2014

No One Talked There

My two girls are so different when it comes to how they think and feel about adoption, and yes, that's taking into account their rather large age difference (over six years apart).  You see, Squirt - at nearly four years of age - just doesn't want to talk about adoption or even China all that much - yet, before the age of two, the Tongginator was all about China and already feeling her losses quite heavily.

It's been a learning curve for me, navigating parenting a child who avoids the topic rather than nearly obsessing over it.

We don't talk about things with Squirt in the same way that we did with the Tongginator, mostly because Squirt never brings it up.  I am sure to work in "I'm so glad we adopted you" as a regular part of our conversation, and Squirt will tell others "I was born in China."  The only grief she's shared at this point in time is the sadness and anger she feels that I didn't "come get her sooner."  But - really - that's about the extent of it.  She's heading to pre-k in August, and kindergarten the following year, so I knew I needed to start broaching the topic with her more often while still following her lead.  I don't want her to first hear that she has "a real mother" or "another mommy" from some kid at school.

Mother's Day was a great opportunity.

I pulled out a few adoption-specific books alongside other popular "mom books" like Mothers Are Like That; Llama Llama, Red Pajama; and I Love You the Purplest.  We read several in the days leading up to and following Mother's Day.  I reshelved most of them a few days ago, but I kept three favorites from the bunch in her book basket.  One of them happens to be You're Not My Real Mother.  Squirt loves this book for some reason.

I've known for a bit that I need to make sure Squirt knows that I'm not her biological mother before she heads off to school, even though she's very uncomfortable every time I try to broach the subject.  I mean, she knows she's "adopted," but I wasn't sure if she really understood what that word meant.  After reading You're Not My Real Mother yet again on Friday, I talked to her about it.  I mentioned her friend's mom, who is expecting her third child in September.  We talked about the baby growing in "a special place inside her tummy."  And I told her that she didn't grow inside me.

TONGGU MOMMA: I'm your real mommy, just like in the book, but you also have a real mommy and a real daddy who live in China. We don't know who they are, but we know that for some reason they couldn't take care of you.  You needed a mommy and daddy who could take care of you, and that's why Daddy and I were able to adopt you.

Squirt was quiet for a minute.

SQUIRT: Mommy... I didn't like the orphanage.

TONGGU MOMMA: I know, honey.   

Although I didn't really believe she remembered not liking it.  She was not even a year old when we adopted her.  And we don't talk about it a whole lot because it stresses her out.  I've never said anything harsh about her orphanage in front of her.  And the Tongginator lived in foster care and has never visited an orphanage, so it's unlikely she's talked about it with Squirt, although maybe she has.  Squirt has seen video of the day we met many times, but not any video and few photos of her orphanage.  And then she floored me...

SQUIRT: I didn't like it.  No one talked there.

No one talked there.

The thing is, she's right.  No one DID talk there.  The short video the Husband and I have seen (but don't actually have in our possession since we didn't film it) of her orphanage room - secretly shot the day after we adopted her - was nearly silent.  Almost 20 babies/ toddlers sat in cribs in that room, just staring into space and/or quietly playing with their hands.  The video footage we saw lasted nearly 10 minutes, and none of the children spoke.  None of the children babbled.

None of the children cried.

None of them even cried.

Squirt was eleven-and-a-half months old at the time of adoption.  I can't positively state that she has true memories of her time in the orphanage.  I feel silly even mentioning the possibility at all.  But that statement came from somewhere, and it wasn't from me or the husband.

No one talked in her orphanage.

And she hated it.

I gave her a hug, and told her, "you never have to live there again, Squirt.  You are going to live with Mommy and Daddy and the Tongginator.  We are a family forever and ever."  She looked at me for a few seconds and then matter-of-factly stated, "okay.  Next book."

And that was the end of it.  So far.


Debby said...

Our adopted son had memories like that when he was very young. One about his grandmother dying. We know nothing about this. He was four when he came to live with us. A lot of time they have the memories of the feelings they had like hunger or being scared. Expressing them like this has to be rare. I know we couldn't believe it. He also acted like he knew directions of places. So interesting. I think not needing too much information is probably more common than needing so much.

bbmomof2boys said...

I've missed you my friend!! I don't remember which orphanage Squirt came from but Little T came from Dongguan and what you just described is exactly how hers is described!! No talking, no noise, no interaction. Hurts my heart just thinking of what our girls went through!!


Casa Bicicleta said...

Just wow.

Tricia said...

I have no doubt she actually remembers. She may lose those memories as she ages, but she may not. My oldest still talks about some things that happened when she was "too young to remember" while others she truly doesn't remember. I will be praying for you as you navigate these waters.

Laura said...

I'm not sure if you are familiar with implicit memory, but it's (in Layman's terms) memories that are tied to our sensory systems. It's possible for those memories to shift from being implicit to concrete, but we still remember either way. A lot of children who have experienced trauma in some form have very strong implicit memory. All of that to say, I think it's very possible and even probable that she does remember. And there is a scientific reason behind the way children remember things from before they were really old enough to remember.

The Gang's Momma! said...

Wow. Just wow. This is amazing. Dr. Purvis covered the topic of "implicit memory" mentioned above in her keynotes at the adoption summit. When she was speaking I just sat and wept. It's so hard to think about what they experienced, what they sensed in their environments, etc that NO beautiful sweet child should have to be exposed to.

Beautiful post, even if it is heartbreaking at the same time.

a Tonggu Momma said...

I was not familiar with implicit memory, so thanks so much y'all for mentioning it! I spent a bit of today reading about it... very eye-opening. So grateful y'all told me about it.

Joan said...

My youngest was 2 when I brought her home. She talked about her Foster Mom and from the beginning the description of her never changed. Ella still talks of her and she always says her Foster Mom was in green pants, striped shirt and wore her long hair in a pony tale. It helps her to repeat it and remember.

My older daughter was 10 months old and lived with her Foster family for 9 months. Luckily we were able to meet them when we went back a couple of years ago so she also has real life memories.


Mahmee said...

Sparkly was 11 months old when we adopted her from China. She's 8.5 now. She's relayed memories of her time at the orphanage over the years, some quite explicit when she had grief and loss therapy at age 4/5. Each year as she ages, those memories seem to lessen though.

April Tranby said...

So glad you are back! I know you have been back for a few months, but I haven't checked in a while I guess. We met when you were in China adopting Squirt. Our son was from the same orphanage, and we were able to visit. I am so glad that Squirt is able to articulate some of her feelings about her time at the orphanage. That is huge. Jayden doesn't talk about it at all, but he has some severe emotional/psychological scars from his time there.

Glad to hear you are doing well!


Alyson and Ford said...

Thank you for these posts, AA's orphanage was the same from what little we know. AA doesn't like to talk at all and she is almost 8 years old. I am thinking some type of therapy. Any suggestions (she loves horses, so thinking of equine therapy). Sometimes we have to get close to a "punishment" to make her talk.It is very hard. Please keep writing.

Alyzabeth's Mommy

Bren Murphy said...

An inspirational story of vulnerability and overcoming adversity
thanks for having the courage to share

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All the best
for the future

Nayeem said...

Just touchable!!!