Most parents have experienced an unruly child in a public place. If you haven’t experienced it, just wait. It happens, we get embarrassed, try to solve the problem, and move on.
Having a newly, adopted child, that is a young toddler emotionally, creates many opportunities for meltdowns. The first emotional collapses came while we were still in Ethiopia. I was the target of those and they included screaming, hitting, kicking, and lots of tears (both mine and Hanissa’s). That week, we experienced 3 really long, exhausting tantrums and one small one. Two of the big ones took place in our hotel room, but the third took place in the home of friends outside of the city.
Having experienced one fit in the presence of others didn’t leave me with much confidence about dealing with these moments in pubic. Just to solidify the feeling of helplessness on my part, we had another episode at the airport in Beijing. Granted, she was tired, I was tired, but the onlookers didn’t seem to take that into account. She was screaming, really loud, and it only got worse as we entered the bathroom. Anyone who has ever visited Asia knows how to make a child stop screaming…give them candy, lots of it if necessary. After politely, at least in my mind I was polite, refusing dozens of pieces of candy, I made my way back to David.
After arriving home, the meltdowns continued. She was adjusting to new rules, new sounds, new everything. We were adjusting, too. A lot of time and energy is needed to keep up with a toddler and staying mentally aware of emotional and physical triggers on top of her activity was leaving me exhausted. Every time we successfully avoided an episode I counted it as a milestone and hoped we were moving past them. When fits came, I rocked and held her humming quietly while I waited for it to pass.
Just before our trip to Hawaii, I realized that the tantrums had decrease to about 1 per week. Not only were they decreasing in number, but they were also less intense. At home, there was a lighter, calmer feeling. We know longer felt like we were walking on eggshells that could break at any moment. It was amazing what kind of change could happen in just 3 months.
Most of our days in Hawaii were spent relaxing together on the beach. One day we had errands to do in town, picking up H’s passport, so we decided to take the whole day and just have fun away from the beach. We went to Pearl Harbor, did a little shopping, and then headed to Waikiki for dinner. By the time we found a parking garage, we were all tired. We wanted to eat and go home. The 4 older girls and I were laughing and talking as we walked ahead of David and Hanissa. I didn’t realize we had moved so far ahead of them until we crossed the street and waited for them to catch up.
We waited and waited and there was no sign of them. I stood at the corner and saw David about a block and a half back squatting down. I assumed he was talking to Hanissa and they would join us in a few minutes. So we waited some more. After a while, I looked back down the street and they were no where to be seen. The girls and I headed back towards the parking garage to see what had happened.
We saw David paying the parking fee and talking to a police officer as we rounded the corner. At that moment, I knew what had happened. Hanissa had a meltdown and it was a big one. What I didn’t know…someone called the police. They had seen a tall, white man carrying a black child, screaming and kicking, into a parking garage. After we got in, the officer came back to the van. He was really nice and explained to me that he just had to follow up on the call from onlookers.
I’m glad that a concerned citizen called the police. I’m glad that the police responded so quickly. I’m thankful the officer was understanding towards our situation. But still, there is a part of me that can’t believe someone called the police on us. Wow! Not only does it get my heart rate up, but it makes me believe we are failures at this thing called parenting and adoption. I know this is NOT true, but, really, how many of you have had the police called in to check on you?
I would love to tell you these emotional moments are now under control and a meltdowns are a thing of the past. But last week, she had a whopper at Gina’s Place because David told her no. Our staff franticly tried to calm her with candy that we refused to their bewilderment. (Trying to explain that giving a treat to a hurting or sad child is fine, but not when the fit is one of anger. Their mantra is give a child whatever keeps them quiet.) The good news, it was definitely a fit of anger, not just the same, unidentifiable emotional fit. Yay, for toddlerhood!
This week, twice she was able to overcome the meltdown before it started. Woohoo! I’m excited about her progress. The excitement isn’t because I’m tired of dealing with the struggle but rather because I know she is learning to deal with her own internal struggles. I know she has suffered great loss. Even though she loves us, I know she still doesn’t understand that this is her permanent home. She misses her friends in Ethiopia. When we look at pictures from Ethiopia, she becomes emotionally “fragile” for a few hours. She can’t express her thoughts clearly in any language, but she is learning better ways to mourn. For that I am thankful.
“For this child, we prayed.”