I assume that when any family is called to adopt an older child, they begin to mourn the firsts. You know what I’m talking about. We missed her first smile. We missed her first laugh. We missed the first time she sat up or crawled or walked or ran or spoke. Of course missing out on some firsts is not so sorrowful. The first time she used a toilet, for example. Or, the first time she slept through the night. We have had seven months to come to terms with the fact that our new addition is a big girl and that we not only missed out on many firsts in her development, but that we will never know exactly when or where any of those events took place.
Today, we were given an unexpected gift. We got to experience a first. A big one, in my opinion.
Sofija lost her first tooth! All week, she’s let me wiggle her “zub”. Seth uses Tom’s strawberry toothpaste. She loves anything related to strawberries, so she has been very willing to let me brush her teeth and wiggle that little loose one in the front. This morning, I could feel that it was just barely attached, but I was afraid that I would traumatize her if I attempted to pull it out. Shortly after brushing her teeth, she slapped me across the face (still a semi-regular occurrence). We have been putting her in a specific chair every time she hurts someone and telling her that she is in timeout. Chad or I have to be in the chair with her, or she will not stay there. So…While sitting in the timeout chair, with his arm wrapped her, Chad watched her push it out with her own tongue. I had to dig around in her mouth to find it, but it has been retrieved. She doesn’t sleep on a pillow and I doubt that she’s ever heard of the tooth fairy, but nobody will ever be able to take away the fact that her family got to witness her losing her very first tooth.
Yesterday, after our sleepless night, we ventured to the Belgrade zoo. Our apartment is located about two miles from the zoo and in an effort to drain every last bit of energy out of our little hummingbird, we walked there. Along the way, we came across many interesting sights, but only one screamed to be used as a backdrop for our daughter. Although we are making a constant effort to give her praise and love and positive reinforcement, she has been spending a fair share of her time in ‘timeout’.
So much so, that before we left the zoo, Chad called the social worker who is her current guardian, and attempted to cancel the visit by the foster family that was scheduled for today. After a night filled with screaming and hitting and biting and a trip to the zoo filled with testing her boundaries, we were fearful that we would see more regression, if she spent time with them. Chad is famous for saying, “Fear is the tool of the devil.” and “Fear is just the absence of faith.” Unfortunately, neither of these statements came to our memory when we started discussing the possible effects of the planned visit. The social worker doesn’t speak or understand much English. Chad’s phone call to her resulted in her meeting us at our apartment when we returned from our outing. She came equipped with a “Serbian for foreigners” pocket-book and an “English for Serbians” pocket-book. Between the two, we had a very fruitful conversation. She explained that part of Sofija’s bonding with us involves her realizing that people do not just disappear. She needs to know that even though we are now her family, the foster family still care about her and they are still a part of her life. These three people who took her into their home, were the first people to get through to her. They were the first people that she showed love to and they were the first people that she ever communicated with. By the end of our conversation, I was very convicted for allowing any fear to enter my thoughts and I felt like an idiot for not realizing how important the visit would be. You would think that having a psychology degree would have helped me put this one together all by myself.
We had a fair night’s sleep. I can’t say it was good, but it was better than the night before. After straightening up the apartment, painting baby girl # 2’s nails on her fingers and piggies, and preparing for our guests (and a few timeouts), we walked to St. Sava’s cathedral. Sofija decided to play the rag-doll game. She would walk a few steps and go limp. She would then lie on the ground and laugh. She did this, every few feet, for about a mile.
It was joyful.
I have to admit. The visit was wonderful. No matter what the situation has been leading up to our arrival, or how things played out once we were here, I have nothing but gratitude for the people who have loved my child for the past two years. She came to them in June of 2008 with no verbal skills. She was not toilet trained. She did not allow anyone to touch her. I can not begin to imagine her being that child. Because Jovana began caring for her at the orphanage when she was only five months old, she has a wealth of information about her life. I learned today that Sofia had no name until she was six or seven months old. I will write another blog post about her name, but this new information provided me with a great deal of freedom. I have been under the impression that her name was given to her by her birth mother. I know that her birth mother went straight into an institution after her birth and that she went from the hospital to an orphanage when she was ten days old. I guess I just never thought that her mother may not have given her a name. Anyway, like a said, that’s an entire post in itself.
The visit with Jovana and Elza was wonderful. They have not only provided our daughter with a loving home for nearly two years, but they have provided us with a picture of her past and they have given us photos of her from five months old until now and they even made us a four-page translation sheet of the things that she is most likely to say. Those sheets of notebook paper have been our biggest God-send for the past week. They are almost worn out from our constant folding and unfolding and we panic when we can’t find them. Chad and I noticed that she has figured out what we understand and that she uses those phrases over and over again. She dumbs-down her Serbian for us. It’s become very clear that she is doing it. When she comes across someone who speaks Serbian, she will just explode in her native-tongue, like she’s been holding her words for days. Then, she will turn to us and say “Hoce mo…” or “Neci mo…” The phrases mean ‘I want’ and ‘I don’t want’. She follows up with words that she knows we understand. I can’t imagine how frustrating it must be for her to have to do this. We have a stack of Serbian books and our computer program and we are able to look up and communicate just about anything that we want to her. She is stuck with four pages of phrases that she must use over and over and over again. But, if it were not for the foster family, we would not even have those four pages.
Another first took place during the visit. She has been referring to me as ‘Mama’ since our second or third visit. She screams it or whispers it, whenever she is in need of anything. However, it has been hard for me to jump for joy over this title because she also uses it on occasion for Chad and Chase and I’m fairly certain that I’ve heard her use it in reference to strangers on the street. Today, Jovana said something to her about Elza (the foster mom) and used the title Mama. My daughter jumped across the room, grabbed my arm, and said very loudly, “Ovaj si moj Majka!” “This is my mother!”
At this moment, it is so hard to even think about my state of mind one week ago. It has only been seven days since I felt that I had no place in her life. Today is very different. I am so head over heels in love with this little girl. She is extraordinarily beautiful and funny and intelligent. And…she is the strongest little person I have ever known. I am not just referring to her physical strength. This little girl has spirit. She was born to a woman who may not have even comprehended that she had just given birth. She spent more than half of the first year of her life with no name. She made it through infancy and toddler-hood without being held or rocked or talked to. She was given big labels and little hope. Yet, she found a way, to not only survive, but to learn and to grow. And to my sheer delight, somewhere along her path, she acquired the ability to grab me and declare me as her mother.