“On December 18, 2007, she walked into my life with the brightest smile. Her smile was reluctant and her eyes were cautious. As I reached out for a welcoming hug, she hesitated. Her shoulders stiffened to the unknown intent of my affection. My heart was ready and willing. Ready to embrace my NEW daughter, and ready to wipe away any question of my love and acceptance of her in her new home.
As new adoptive parents, we showed her the bedroom that was ALL hers. After settling in, and not knowing exactly what to do next, we immediately took her shopping for clothes, toys, toiletries, and almost WHATEVER she wanted. Surely, this would help her let her guard down and accept her place in our home.
As evening dawned, we prepared dinner. The agency told us to make sure the food would be something she would be familiar with. So, my husband and I (who usually enjoyed the typical veggies, meat, and a starch) prepared hotdogs and snuck in a side salad. The young girl analyzed her porcelain plate, fork, knife, and napkin. Then, she studied the contents of her plate.
‘Why are you feeding me GRASS?’
‘Grass?’ I whispered to myself. Isn’t she from Houston? How could she not know what salad looks like? It was in this very moment, as my head sank, I realized the heavy weighty commitment I made; a commitment that would alter the course of both of our lives. What was I thinking? Did I think this was just some game where I would play ‘mommy’ and she would just be the happy, gracious little daughter who loved me forever? Who was this ‘stranger’ in my home?
In that moment, I realized, I had a lot to learn if I was going to do this right. I instantly knew this had to be an ALL IN or ALL OUT decision! I became curious. If she didn’t know what a salad was, maybe I should present other things to her that a ‘typical Houston kid’ would find familiar. I placed a coloring book and crayons at the table.
‘Do you like to color?’ I asked. I received the same perplexed look.
‘What do you want me to with this?’ she replied.
I screamed in my mind, but my face remained pleasant. I didn’t want her to feel bad for not knowing what crayons were. Who was this ‘stranger’ in my home?
That night, I gave my new daughter her first cute little pink toothbrush. ‘It’s time to brush, sweetie!’ I exclaimed. Her feet slowly scuffled toward the restroom. ‘What’s that?’ she asked. What was I going to do? How do I even start? A 4-year old girl who was born in the United States, and she never tasted salad, drawn a picture with crayons, or felt bristles from a toothbrush across her teeth. Surely she’s joking. Surely this can’t be real. Who was this ‘stranger’ in my home?
As I attempted to tuck her in that night, I explained the benefits of nutrition, the creative things you can do with crayons, and the importance of oral hygiene. Her unsure eyes wandered the room as if she was deciding whether or not what I was saying was actually true! Who was this ‘stranger’ in my home?
I wouldn’t lie to her. I wanted to help her and train her in ways parents usually train their children. But, as the weeks passed, she became more and more resistant. Pleasing me while I was watching, but actively doing the opposite of what I request when my attention was elsewhere. So, I went hardcore on everything. Learning! Social Skills! Affection! Eye Contact! Hygiene! Respect! None of my efforts worked. I tried and tried until I had nothing left. Who was this ‘stranger’ in my home?
A long time passed before I realized this was all in her timing and under her control. After months of effort, I was told by therapists to just accept the fact my daughter may not be like other children, and she may never be what I expected from a daughter. I needed to come to terms we were the strangers to her. After all, she didn’t ask to be ripped away from her birth parents. She didn’t get to choose to live with grandparents, aunts, or uncles. She was forced to live with strangers.
We were the strangers all along! According to Webster dictionary, a stranger is:
– A person whom one does not know or with who one is not familiar
– A person who does not know, or is not known in a particular place or community. ‘Newcomer, new arrival, visitor, outsider, newbie.’
– A person entirely unaccustomed to a feeling, experience, or situation.
We came into her world asking and demanding her to LOVE and TRUST us when those who she did trust and love betrayed her. We remember driving to Crosby to visit my family. We glanced through the rear-view mirror saying, ‘WE LOVE YOU!’ Her facial expression said it all. Was that the first time she heard that phrase? Was she simply not ready to hear that from us?
‘What do you mean?’ she replied. This simple statement made us realize we were yet again strangers in so many ways. We are taught at a young age, ‘Don’t let strangers in’ and ‘Don’t hug strangers.’ Why would I have expected her to say ‘I love you’ to a stranger? Getting a distant hug or awkwardly holding her hand was something new also.
It breaks my heart as I type this. Looking back at those early years, I wish I knew then what I know now. All she knew was these strangers had a new room for her, new clothes, requested she call them Daddy and Mommy. She would call me ‘Mom’ and call Adam ‘Uncle Adam’ at home and ‘Daddy’ in public. She was told these strangers would pick her up and drop her off at school daily, but she hesitated to leave the car because what if they never returned? These strangers were also taking care of two of her infant brothers. Could she trust them to be nice to her brothers? Will they let me be their sister forever? Do I have to be good so I can stay here with them?
We tried to make sure her childhood experience was like any other child. We would have to make her play like other children. When prompted to play with other children, she would often say, ‘I don’t know how to play. I never had toys like you have here. We only had the broken playground and dirt.’ Yet, again, these strangers tried to show her how to play, but her perplexed face showed hesitation. She simply didn’t want to play.
I assume she often wondered why I (her so-called ‘Mom’) was so happy. You see, I (Randi) was finally in my so-called heaven. After all, wasn’t I saving a life and giving another person a chance? Try explaining to a four-year-old child, who only knew her biological mother and, rightfully, only loved her biological mother. I was telling her by my actions to renounce her biological mother because I was a ‘better’ mom. So wrong! But being newly adoptive parents, we just wanted to fix everything and make everything okay! We can still become guilty of this.
We learned early on that consistency would be the only key. Yet, we were still beating our heads to show her the strangers she was living with would be reliable, keep her safe and make sure all of her physical needs would be met.
In the book, Too Scared To Cry, the author stated that ‘A life may progress, dragging along its unresolved griefs, hauntings, and terrors as it goes on.’ Our new daughter was shocked by the removal of her family, so she set up a pattern of fear and behavior that plagued her in her daily life. We had to make a conscious decision to remain constant in every aspect of the word COMMITMENT! We had to dispel the word STRANGER through our consistent actions. We realize her mourning interfered with her attempts to feel love and protection. The numbness of the past and sometimes present affects her cognition and capability to perceive and accept affection and protection from others.
Adoption is not for the faint of heart. Compassion will help you be tolerant of a child’s deepest needs, and to be forgiving when they don’t understand somethings that seems so basic, like salad, crayons, or even a coloring book. Compassion has helped us understand our daughter’s actions. We understand before she came to us, her mind was trained to believe adults are abusive liars and both lying and manipulation are keys to survival.
We promise to keep compassion at the forefront of our lives so we the STRANGERS will one day become the FOREVER PARENTS in her heart. Deep down, we know she wants desperately to connect but doesn’t know how. So, while our consistency continues, we look at every smile, hug, and open conversation as a small breakthrough!”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Randi N. Blair from Houston, TX. You can follow their journey on Instagram and Facebook. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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