Friday, December 13, 2013

4 Weeks and Counting...What is it Like in Canaan? (Part 2)

*This is Part 2 of a previous post.  If you haven't read Part 1 first, you can read it here!

So, as for Nora at 4 weeks into our Canaan...what all is she doing?  How is she doing?  Short answer...she is wonderful!  Beautiful actually.  Beautifully two years old and all that comes with that.  Does she give us hugs throughout an entire day at random times?  You betcha!  Does she whine when she doesn't get her way?  Incredibly well!  Does she melt down when she's hungry or needs a nap?  Yep, same as our other children did when they were 2!  Does she love to be wrestled with and flipped around in the air by Daddy?  Every day.  Actually, multiple times a day.  Does she need rocked and cuddled?  Thankfully, yes.  Does she get mad at her siblings when they are not doing what she wants them to be doing.  Yep, got that covered too.  Basically, is anything "different" with how Nora is acting than any other full-blooded 2 year old?  Not really.  The only primary difference we see right now is that she doesn't speak English except a hand-full of words and that thrown into the mix of being 2 years old presents a few more challenges to the day.  However, even with that challenge, we can communicate well enough and she is learning more and more words by the day, which has been helpful.  She understands more than she can speak and she knows how to try to get away with things by pretending she doesn't understand.  Yep...she's definitely 2 years old and KNOWS it!  It is awesome watching her learn and discover throughout the day!

Nora saying we don't need the "paper Nora" anymore!

See, it's not always smiles...sometimes a 2 year old is just doesn't want her picture taken.

She fills her day playing with toys and flipping through books, being excited to head out for errands and dancing to music.  All of that happens while she is also trying to understand what is expected of her now and what it's like to have siblings who have needs too.  She gets her hair done or spruced up in the morning and lotion applied to her skin every morning and night because it's so dry.  She is constantly exploring (a good thing) which often leads to hearing "no touch" said throughout the house.  It is a huge time of transition and adjustment for her, but none of this seems to come as a stress to her so far--she takes it in stride and learns as she goes.  Simple things can set her off into melt-down mode--like needing to have shoes or slippers on her feet at all times or wanting every door in our house to be closed, or not wanting anyone to take her coat off once she has it on, or having her sippy cup taken from her too early at the table.  We know these things because we are living closely in our Canaan with her right now, but just as soon as we finally realize a trigger (like those above) she seems to move past it and learns that the whole world doesn't fall apart when her coat comes off so the next day is better in that area and different in another.  Basically, we are learning all about what makes Nora "Nora".  As a general rule however...Nora is active, happy, energetically loud, and positively strong-willed.  She cracks us up with her silliness, we could do without her whininess (what parent of a 2 year old wouldn't say that!?!), and her hearty laugh is contagious.

Do you remember the photo we took on our first trip to Haiti showing how squishable her cheeks were?  They are still squishable!  She cracks up every time she sees this picture!

Here's the photo from our trip (December 2011)  Hee, hee!

For our other children...they are miraculously taking this addition to the family as if she has always been here (and her to them).  Lily is basking in the joy of having a little sister.  It's like a real-life doll to play with!  She is almost always carrying Nora through the house for "rides", helping her with something, or laughing with her.  I've been impressed with her desire to help us with Nora at all costs.  She has been a blessing in this transition.  Toby has been a little more hands-off, but this is much more of Toby's personality anyway.  Nora clearly loves him as she hugs him and sits on him as he is trying to play the wii or watch a movie.  He's never had to deal with an affectionate younger sibling (Quinn isn't typically all lovey-dovey on his brother for some reason-ha!) so it will take some time for Toby to understand what all this little girl needs and how to express his affection towards her.  Quinn is playing the role of the next older brother quite well.  When he isn't trying to help her, he is trying to pick on her and drive her nuts.  Oye!  I think it is clearly a wonderful thing that most of my days are now home with just the two of them--they have some learning to do on how to best play together.  For the most part though, Quinn is doing amazingly well with the transition from the youngest in the family to having to share his toys (and his Mommy) with another little cutie now.  He is even beginning to do some things only a "big brother" would do like help her with her shoes when they have come off once again.

For Micah and myself, well, every day is a day filled with learning, setting boundaries, loving, encouraging, smiling, saying "no touch" and...well...parenting!  That is our focus right now.  How to be the best parents we can be for Nora.  Much of that involves constant observation and interaction.  We have played life more low-key these past 4 weeks so we could get a better understanding on just how Nora needs us to do this parenting thing for her.  We are learning who Nora is, what she needs, what she doesn't need, what she likes, what she doesn't like, what she already knows how to do and what she still needs to learn.  There have been plenty of moments when good parenting means we have had to help Nora learn she can't have whatever she wants by whining and crying for it until she gets it, but that instead, using her words is the better way.  There are other times when parenting means enjoying the signs of built trust--like when she wants us to simply rub and tickle her tummy affectionately instead of pushing us away when we would try to tickle her at all.  Parenting in our Canaan means all aspects of the word.  It is a privilege and gift God has given us.  The gift of intimately learning who this child is in a way all other people will not have the ability to see and know.  It is not one we are taking lightly.

As far as the general's been a good challenge as a parent to prioritize what I know I need to do FOR Nora over what I want to do WITH Nora.  If you are familiar at all with adoption there is a lot of talk about "bonding", "attachment", and what's called "cocooning".  This is where adoptive parents will, in essence, shut the outside world out for a bit of time to focus more solely on their new child's needs.  There are so many "levels" of cocooning just like anything else in life...extremely strict to very loose.  I would say we fall more on the end of loose than strict, but we certainly see the importance of this time of bonding.  What I have noticed is that 4 weeks of time it is not enough time to be able to accurately know what all Nora needs and doesn't need.  I've also noticed these things are more easily seen when she is at home in her comfortable setting.  It is also simply easier for ME to see them when we are at home because it's my own comfortable setting.  I can observe her so much easier when she is the only thing (besides Quinn and the messy house) that needs my direct attention.  When we are out in public, my focus easily gets shifted from what Nora needs to making sure that other people are or are not doing anything that might not suit her needs.  Although these thoughts are still centered around Nora, they aren't actually ON Nora.

For example, when we were on a grocery run the lady behind our cart decided it would be fine to just reach over and touch Nora's wrist and hand while sweetly telling her she has the prettiest eyes she has ever seen.  All of this was happening while I was loading the grocery bags into the opposite end of our cart so I couldn't even  stop it from happening.  What was a very innocent and attempted compliment to Nora became a moment of freaked-out eyes in my baby girl.  Nora shot me a look like "Why is this strange lady touching me and what on earth is she saying because I don't speak English yet?"  Ugh.  Why oh why do people think they have the right to invade the personal space of a toddler when clearly you would not go up to an adult stranger and gently rub their hand while you told them they had the prettiest eyes you have ever seen?  (Seriously, don't get me started)  So, I immediately shifted myself between the stranger and Nora and thanked her for the compliment and assured Nora I was right there and she was okay.  See how my shift had to go from parenting Nora's needs only to protecting Nora from others who were unknowingly not helping to meet her needs, but instead causing fear within her?    Moments like these can happen so quickly when we are not in the "safe place" of our home.

One other example would be going to get my hair cut.  Granted, I get my hair cut in the home basement salon of a friend so I wasn't taking Nora and Quinn with me to a busy hair salon, but still, it was to an unfamiliar place to Nora with a person she had never met.  We walked in and as I got my coat off, I witnessed Nora walking straight over to my hairdresser/friend and reaching her arms out to her for a hug and desire to be held.  Oh my.  The hug happened before I could even say a thing but I at least got the instructions to my friend to not pick her up before that happened too.  Now, to a "normal" mom, this might seem crazy to stop a friend from picking up your child or not really wanting your friend to give your child a hug, but for our parenting right now, we are trying to establish that there are differences between people she has never met before and us as her parents.  You see, in the orphanage, Nora would have been visited frequently by groups of people (primarily white people) on mission trips to Haiti.  Thankfully, these people would simply scoop up the kids, give them gifts, hug them and love on them.  They were signs of affection from strangers that were critical in Nora's future acceptance of our own affection...something we are eternally grateful she received while in the orphanage.  However, our family life now is not orphanage life and the differences need to be established.

There is a line that needs to be established that children who have grown up in a family from birth don't necessarily need to recognize because it has typically always been understood...the things you do to those you love are not the same as the things you do to someone you've never met before.  All of these relationships are fluidly going to change over the coarse of time as Nora understands more and more, but in this transition she has to rely on us as her parents to teach her what is appropriate and what is not.  Hugging a complete stranger just like she used to hug the mission team members or like she hugs her own parents is not okay here even though it was okay for the past two years of her life.  Having her needs (like being held) by a complete stranger instead of her mom or dad is also not okay anymore.  If I think about my friends' children at their toddler ages, I find it hard to remember ever really holding them and hugging them much either.  I held them when they were babies, but as a toddler, that holding place was more readily and rightfully reserved for "Mommy".  It is a hard transition to make because, of course, we would love for our friends and family to be able to hold Nora, hug her, and love on her with us, but for now, we have to help her see us as something different--dare I say it--more important--in her life than any other person she meets along the way.  Being at home with her instead of out and about all the time is helping her bond to us instead of all strangers who, 4 weeks ago, were no different than us.  Teachable moments like the hug at the hairdresser's house, however, are also going to inevitably come along, but keeping them to a minimal at the beginning is what has seemed best for us and, more importantly, for Nora.

The challenging part in parenting her right now, however, is being able to recognize what is Nora's natural personality coming out (and therefore celebrated and encouraged) and what is potential habits that need broken (and therefore discouraged to continue).  For example, in the above scenario with her hugging my friend/hairdresser...we just haven't had enough time with Nora yet to know if she is genuinely just a "hugger" who expresses herself this way or if that is simply a learned habit from orphanage life that she feels obligated to do because she has always done it.  Or, if she is genuinely a rambunctious and outgoing personality that loves attention (which we see around the house all.the.time.) or if that is her way of trying to gain our approval and attention.  Or if her shaking her head "no" to the green pepper on her plate is because she is trying to not eat what we are wanting her to eat in order to test us or defy us or if she genuinely doesn't like the taste of green peppers.  These are all examples of the moment by moment observations and learning we get to do as her parents.  It's kind of like everything a parent of a bio-toddler has learned throughout the course of 2 years of observation is trying to be learned in a few weeks of time.  Reality is that it is next to impossible to do this that quickly and this is also why it is so important for us to be taking the time now to stay much more focused on Nora at our home than trying to do all of that while also having to be aware of everything and everyone else around us.  We are anxious and excited to learn more and more of who Nora is and who she will become so we don't have to hover over her quite so much and give her more and more freedom to discover her place in this family and ultimately this world.  It is part of the joy of parenting!

So, with all that said, we want to thank you all for being so gracious with us as a family as we have lived a bit more isolated in our Canaan these past 4 weeks.  The meals that have been brought in have been a God-send as they have allowed us even more time to parent as Nora needs us.  The respect we have received of our desires to have us be the only people that meet Nora's basic needs like being held, fed, changed, and taken care of have been exactly what we needed.  As we go into this Christmas season with larger family functions and a longer trip to South Dakota for Micah's side of the family's Christmas, we know that the space and respect we have been given will have benefited Nora more than you know and made her much more prepared for embracing her extended family.  We ask that you please continue to give us grace and space as we move on through our "Canaan life".  We especially ask that you give that grace and space to Nora as she makes her way through the learning curves she is being thrown.  Although she has been growing leaps and bounds in these 4 weeks and doing so, so well with it all, like I said above, there is so much more we need to learn and she needs to learn.  There is a future that is unknown to us at this point so we move forward continuing to parent her the best we know how and trusting that God has much joy at each step of the journey.  We will also need to take things as they come and potentially ask others to continue to do things that seem "unnatural" in a normal family situation simply because it is what we know will be best for Nora in the long run.  We look forward to the MANY, MANY times in the future you will all be able to show Nora your love in more tangible ways that she will be able to recognize and understand correctly.

In summary, we are thoroughly enjoying the gifts of the Lord in this land...even in the midst of the typical two year old being stubborn, the four year old trying to be funny, the five year old learning to read, and the seven year old learning her place as the oldest.  Is it the story we were told by many others we would surely experience (discussed in Part 1)?  Thankfully, not really at all.  It is not someone else's story.  It is uniquely ours.  Have these first 4 weeks been the "honeymoon" and now we sense the end of the honeymoon?  Nope, I don't think it's that either...I think it has been a beautiful reality that will simply continue on.  Staying in the place God has called me to--a place where I expect joy and abundance because it is what He has always desired for me--has brought so much richness to these past 4 weeks and I look forward to what is ahead!  Is it the end of the adoption process "wilderness" and the beginning of the Promised Land...the Canaan we have been promised by the Lord?  Yes, I believe it is and we are so eternally grateful to have our feet firmly planted on this side of the journey.

Our "star" this year helping to put the star on our tree

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