Ok, in all honesty I totally had to look it up. I mean we were in the throws of moving to Germany and we didn’t even get notification that the adoption was final for MONTHS afterwards. But that doesn’t diminish the importance of the day. You see that was the day that Nadia (Miss Thing) became my daughter. Legally. And now after all these years and all the tears she is 18. I honestly can not believe that we made it. You see when you adopt an older child they come with their own set of unique issues. Nadia was 7 when she first came to live with my ex-husband and the two boys. She didn’t come alone. She came with her bio sister. their younger brother went to another foster home. They came with the absolute goal of family reunification. You see I knew the kids because I worked at the elementary school that they attended. They had been moved through several foster homes and the final placement (before me) was breaking down fast. I got a call from their worker asking if I would be willing to take the two girls on a short term basis. SURE. Small aside, when a social worker says short term basis it’s never short term. Anywho…we had completed our foster parent training and were actually waiting for a foster to adopt placement. We were looking for a kid that was already a permanent ward of the province and ready to adopt. NOT for a long term foster placement. But here’s the thing….I KNEW these kids. I had seen them for months, two little girls making their way to school. Missing so many days. Every so often the younger sister would bring down attendance and greet me with the customary “Hello Gorgeous” that the kindergarten teacher had taught all his “Bees” to say when they brought down the attendance folder. More days than I can count I had to call and leave a message “good morning, this is the school we are wondering if the girls are coming in today?”. There was never someone answering, there was never a call back. They simply missed school. A lot. But when they were there oh how they loved to learn. And how sweet they were, eager to join in and tried so hard to make up for lost time. Their peers were moving past them because of all the missed days but still they both persevered. Then one day they just vanished. Missing weeks instead of the customary two or three days a week. No phone call with made up excuses, they simply stopped coming. And then the call from the social worker. Would we be willing to take them? Could we pick them up immediately? Here’s an address. OH. Um….I guess we need beds? So we dropped everything and picked them up. I still remember the faces of these two little scared girls. They had been through so many houses. The look of complete and utter relief when they saw my face was heartbreaking. HELLO GORGEOUS! Are we coming to YOUR house. Yes, yes you are. And I promise you’ll be safe and sound AND you can go to school every single day. Hop in the car. It’s been 11 years since that day and I can still see the smiles on their faces. Pure relief.
So for three years we did the dance of the court dates. At some point we realized that these kids were never going back. It didn’t take long to realize that reunification was not going to happen. But oh how we tried. Bio mom tried, she really honestly did. But the bar she had to reach was too high. The sacrifices that she would have to make were too much. She loves her kids, of that there is no doubt but she simply couldn’t do the things that were asked of her. And at some point we realized that the two girls needed a chance to attach. I’ve tried to explain it many times but the best analogy I can come up with is that they were both drowning. Both were flailing about in the water sinking each other. Neither one could be saved because while they were together they wouldn’t allow the other one to swim or even tread water. Her younger sister HATED living at my house. Everything about our house screamed family, stability, normal. And she hated it. So from about day 7 she started plotting to get the hell out. I’m sure in her mind getting out meant she would go back home. So she did everything in her power to break down the placement. After 6 months and with a heavy heart we agreed to move her. I knew I could do so much with that kid, but she needed more than I could give. And in order to save both, we had to let one go and hope that there was someone out there that could reach her little broken soul. She told me years later how much she regrets pushing to move out of our home. She was only 6 but she remembers how much she purposely tried to get out. We were ‘too normal” and she had to get out of there.
And the little bird that at 7 landed in my house? Well she slowly but surely started to fly. Not by herself of course. We did MAJOR therapy with the most amazing childhood trauma therapist. For years we went weekly and we worked through all the years of trauma that had come before Nads was in our house. SHE did the work. I read everything I could get my hands on about childhood trauma. People seem to think that it has to be some huge event that makes kids develop ‘issues’ related to trauma. It’s not. It can be the instability of moving every 3 months. It can be neglect. It can change a child’s brain in a way that has lasting effects. And in my girl’s life the childhood she had lead to PTSD, OCD and the fact that she hadn’t slept in YEARS. But she did the work. She went from sleeping no more than 4 hours a night and hiding food to sleeping all night long and eating anything that was placed in front of her. I remember on her 11th birthday asking her where she wanted to eat for her special day and she picked a Sushi restaurant in Heidelberg. Seriously? A kid who 4 years before wouldn’t eat a tuna fish sandwich was picking spicy salmon rolls for her special day? Amazing. Bizarre but amazing.
I get all sorts of accolades when people see my kid. Especially people who knew her back then. People who saw the damage, who saw how broken she was. When we look back at pictures from when she first came she always remarks on the huge black circles under her eyes. When we moved back from Europe there were many people who honestly couldn’t believe the change from the years before. What had happened? What did you do? Why was she thriving so much? Well it’s simple. It started with a change to her environment. I pushed her to be the person she so desperately wanted to be. And never for one moment did I allow her to use her past as an excuse to not succeed. I will NEVER forget the testing that they psychologist did when she was 9 or so. There is was in black and white. This kid was behind the 8-ball. But. But. But. I knew she could succeed. I KNEW that she was desperate to succeed. And I knew that I would do anything in my power to make sure that she did.
Have there been naysayers along the way? Of course. I’ve had people tell me many times that they don’t “get” my parenting style. That I’m too lax or too strict. That I should do or say or act a different way. But quite frankly at this point I don’t give a fuck. I may not be the best friend, or the best wife, or the best employee…hell there are a million things that I’m not the best at but let me tell you, I am ONE HELL of a mom. I have three amazing kids. And I’m proud of all of them but I am the most proud of the fact that I helped a little damaged bird of a girl go from fearful of everything to fearless. I took her from paralyzing insomnia to sleeping through the night in the dark. I took her from being scared to stay out in the sun because she was ‘dark’ to asking me what kind of lotion to use in the tanning bed. I took her from being ashamed of the very space she took up in a room to demanding her place in the world.
So why the long blog post. Well she’s 18. We did it. While a SIGNIFICANT number of older child adoptions break down ours did not. I’m not going to pretend it was easy. It wasn’t. I’m not going to pretend that there weren’t times when it came very close to breaking down, it did. And now she is graduating from high school. A feat so very few people thought she would accomplish. Small aside I’m ashamed to say that in the beginning I set the bar for her too low because I believed the naysayers. I remember I even said, if we can get her through high school and keep her from getting pregnant I’ll be happy. I doubted myself and I doubted her. I obviously gave my head a shake and raised the bar at some point. She has goals (although like every 18 year old they are a mystery to me because she rarely wants to talk about them). She dates. She has friends. Does she struggle? Sure, she fights every day to form relationships that are healthy. Sometimes she picks friends (and guys) who treat her like shit and tries to earn their approval. Sometimes she picks really sweet guys and then doesn’t know what the hell to do with them because they aren’t emotionally abusing her and she can’t wrap her head around being treated well.
But she is chosen. She is my chosen daughter and I am her chosen Mom. We might not be perfect but we have each other. I have stepped in front of a train for this girl and I always will. It’s not empty promises it’s real life. She gets it. She might not always show it but I know that she 100% appreciates it. And I appreciate the fact that the bravest thing she has ever done in her 18 years is ask me if she could stay forever. And the bravest thing I ever did was say yes.