September 15, 2014
Our girl is such a little beauty. She has light blue eyes, easily tanned skin, and now-healthy brown hair streaked in the front with natural blond highlights (which, as she frequently points out, is reminiscent of Anna from ‘Frozen’). She has a smile that lights up her whole face. She has slimmed up a bit and she is healthy and strong.
She looooves looking at pictures. She will happily look through all of our photo albums, commenting on everyone–how young we look, what cute babies the boys were, how I look like a princess in my wedding photos. She recently went through my phone and looked at all the pictures going back to the day she came to us six months ago. I went over and joined her, and felt almost shocked as I looked from the images on my phone to the lovely little girl holding it. She has grown up more in these six months than I had realized.
When she came, she had a couple rotten teeth that are now gone. She was just a bit thick–either normal kindergarten chubs or a result of the daily McDonald’s runs she says she was used to. Her hair was coarse and uneven and crawling with lice. Now it is shiny, clean, and almost all one length. AND, she actually lets me brush it and make it look nice. There was a time when, well…when she wouldn’t. (More on THAT in the next post.)
For the first few weeks, she snacked like a champ (fruit, cheese, whatever we had), but every time she took a snack, she’d ask if she could have two–one to eat, and one to put in her bag for when she went home. Food hoarding is often a normal behavior for kids who come into foster care, but normal can still break your heart.
While she snacked like a champ, she was critical of almost every meal we put on the table. She would ask what I was making, and no matter what it was, she would tell me that she didn’t like it. When dinner time came, we would tell her to just try a bite of everything, and she would once again tell us that no, she wouldn’t try it, because she didn’t like it. “Remember? I already TOLD you that,” with an exasperated roll of the eyes. Then she would go away to her room to cry and sulk for awhile because we had dared to put a pinto bean on her plate, or a dollop of mashed potato, or a bite of pasta she hadn’t had before but was certain must be disgusting. Eventually, she would stay at the table at meal times but make disgusted noises at her plate until finally we would send her away to her room. After awhile, she started taking bites, sometimes clearing her plate and even asking for more. We’ve reached a point where she’ll try just about anything, and she’s only rarely critical.
This girl came to us throwing toddler-style tantrums. Sometimes a tantrum happened because we asked her to stop doing something, or clean something up, or be kinder to the ACTUAL toddler in the house. Sometimes these tantrums came out of the blue. One time in particular, we were all sitting around, happy and content at our various activities, and suddenly she was screaming and hurtling herself around the room making as much angry noise as possible. When it was all said and done, I don’t think even she knew what prompted that one. Maybe our house was just a little too calm for her, and she decided to mix things up a little. Maybe she felt guilty that she was actually enjoying herself in our home. Maybe all her pent-up anger and confusion and helplessness just needed to find an outlet. Regardless, it was very unexpected and very alarming. There’s plenty of sulking that happens now, and frequent hissy-fits, but we haven’t had one of those mind-boggling tantrums for some time now.
There are plenty of negative behaviors we have NOT had to face with her. She doesn’t steal, she’s not a runner, her language is clean, and she’s not violent. She rarely lies (except for that whole skewed-reality, dishonest-about-her-motives, etc. thing that I mentioned in a previous post). However, in those first months she was DEFIANT and s-t-u-b-b-o-r-n. See there, I had to write those words in special ways, that’s how big an issue they were. She argued about everyyyythingggg. (That too.) Everything, people! Even if I was offering her something she wanted. Even if it was the smallest detail about nothing. And she went to lengths to be disrespectful. She said things six-year-olds shouldn’t think to say. Her posture, her attitude, her tone of voice, her actual words–everything said “You are stupid. I am smart, and I am in charge.” And it wasn’t just me. It was my husband, my parents and in-laws, friends of the family. Her teacher told me that she hadn’t often seen other first graders talk back the way she does. I’m realizing that I’m using the past-tense here, but unfortunately, these issues are the ones we still struggle with. But the fact is, she HAS been left in charge of various aspects of her life. At least, she has been for a period of time. I understand kids who’ve experienced some neglect often/usually keep wanting to take care of themselves and take charge of their situations, but this girl sports such an attitude. We’ve had people say to us, “It doesn’t seem possible, but she acts like she’s been spoiled,” and it’s true. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what would cause a neglected child to act spoiled and entitled, and I’ve listened to other people’s stories, and maybe some day I’ll have gained enough insight to write about that. The missing piece of her personality puzzle is the considerable amount of time she spent with another foster mom. I have no idea what values she was taught while she was there. Maybe she was allowed to get her own way all the time. I don’t know. She acts like someone who is accustomed to having people give her what she demands.
She has softened considerably, though. She respects me now, though she doesn’t always demonstrate respect. She obeys a little bit more and complains a little bit less. I was volunteering in her classroom recently, and at one time I saw her on the verge of freaking out about something with another student. But I went to her, spoke quietly and gently to her, and she calmed down immediately. That’s huge. There was a time where I’d try to talk her down and it would only get her more wound up.
She shows affection frequently. She has started calling me mom. (This is also normal for foster kids, and also a little bittersweet. It came later for her than it does for some kids.) She compliments us all often, including the boys. She treats my youngest with so much more patience now, seems concerned about his well-being, and seems to actually care for all the boys. She can admit wrong and even ask forgiveness. Some of these gestures seem a little put-on, like she’s acting in a certain way so as to be perceived as cute, but it’s a start. Fake it ’til you make it, right? I mean, she REFUSED to ask forgiveness, even for blatant wrongs, for a long time. So the fact that the words will actually leave her lips is something to celebrate, even if there are some self-serving ulterior motives.
I don’t know if I’ve really heard her do a genuine belly laugh, except for maybe once when we were watching YouTube videos of clumsy cats. She does this super fake giggle-laugh that is supposed to be adorable and charming but is actually really annoying, but I’ll take it. She’s happy, and she wants to communicate that she’s happy, and I think laughing hard and a lot is a bit new to her. Given the uncertainty and grief she has experienced in her life, there hasn’t been a lot of room for the safe, easy light-heartedness that most children are used to, and I guess even things like laughter take practice when you’ve gone some time without.
These six months have been an eternity, and they’ve been a breath. We’ve learned a tremendous amount about each other, and yet there’s so much left to learn. And somewhere, waiting, there’s a good belly laugh just waiting to be discovered.