Monday, November 28, 2011


When our sweet Princess first arrived in our mini-family in Sophia, the fact that she wanted to walk constantly seemed awesome. We were happy to oblige, almost non-stop, and we viewed this as a great bit of progress because she needs all the practice she can get. So we walked, nearly non-stop, around the little apartment the whole time we were hanging around in Bulgaria getting ready to come home.

I now wonder if that was quite so awesome as I assumed it to be.

It wasn't until we got home with her that we realized that our Princess doesn't know how to play. She can entertain herself just fine, scooting around on her butt and exploring the stuff around her, but when she encounters another adult human being she instantly wants to grab their fingers and walk around. It's not long before you begin to feel a bit like a puppet or a prop or a tool, rather than a human being. And that's because that is what she sees you as.

I don't mean this to sound like I'm calling my daughter selfish or cruel or manipulative. She doesn't know how to interact playfully because she never learned that skill in her previous environment. The kids never sat down with a caregiver to play, and at her age she would never have played interactively with her peers, since she never roomed with children above the age of about two. Two year olds don't play interactively, they play in parallel. So even when she had developed to a point where she could begin to play cooperatively, no one else around her was ready.

In all of her previous experience, my daughter has been taught that caregivers are there to meet basic physical needs and that's it. End of story. No cuddling, no playing, no songs and games, no sharing a toy or activity. There are too many kids to care for and not enough time. In Bulgaria, when we could focus all of our time on her, we became the most attentive and cuddly caregivers ever, but we were still simply the big people who do stuff for her. Now that we are home with her we are realizing that all the walking was a sign of development, but not the type of development we need to focus on.

The first thing we need to be concerned with is creating a connection with our new daughter. Teaching her to walk, to speak, to chew, etc. are admirable goals but they can't be pursued until that first one is at least underway. A child without a connection to their caregivers will rely on their own survival skills, they will be hyper-vigilant and on edge waiting for this caregiver to check out like so many others, and that focus on survival will leave them with no energy for growth in other areas. We can walk her around like crazy, and she might get better at it, maybe even proficient, but it won't develop the thing she needs most, and that is a relationship with us.

The past couple of days I've taken a new tactic of focusing on creating a relationship with her. I try to sit her facing me as much as possible. I touch her as much as possible. I hold her when I can. I carry her around. I sit her in my lap, facing me, and engage her in shared play. Her interest in walking has become less obsessive, it seems. She doesn't leap out of bed pulling us out to walk around the house for a solid hour, taking an interest in nothing else and throwing tantrums when we try to engage her in play. This morning she went straight from the bed to Nick's arms and then to breakfast and didn't flip out. That's sort of a big deal. This evening we were walking and she led me to her favorite toy table and sat me down and we played together. She walks to the sinks to have us turn them on so she can put her hands in. I managed to read a book to her and her sister this evening - twice! Previously I couldn't read to her because she would tear the book out of my hands and throw a fit because she wasn't walking. And, not for nothing, but she was asleep in 10 minutes tonight. (She politely declined her nap, so that's certainly part of it, but still...)

I guess I was surprised to realize just how pervasive the need to connect is in adopted kids. Biological kids have a big head start on this, what with nine months inside your body and all, so it's easy to miss this if you haven't adopted before. I'm starting to believe that if you seek first a connection, other issues will fall in place far easier than if you put connection at the bottom of your list or assume it will "just happen" while you are working on other things.

Connecting with your new kid is a big deal. It deserves to be a specific goal.

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