Adoption is complex. I’m not talking about the paper trail or the wait; but rather, raising children who carry deep, unseen injuries and fears. The hearts of these kids, the heart of my daughter, jumbled with emotions they don’t understand. For some, memories come in waves at unexpected times. A smell, a sound, a frivolous sight can bring glimpses from the past and evoke emotions. Strong emotions revealed through anger, tears, shouting, or maybe just stoney silence. Kids aren’t the only ones caught off guard by this sudden barrage. Parents are usually left clueless trying to figure out what just happened?
One day, we left church without eating at the cafeteria on campus and Hanissa started silently crying. I asked why she was crying. She put her fingers to her mouth, and as big drops fell from her eyes, she asked, “Hanissa eat no?” We had already explained that we were eating somewhere special, but she didn’t understand. Maybe it was the break in routine or maybe it was the memory of hunger. Something triggered fear in heart. She thought she wasn’t going to eat.
With swollen eyes, she questioned us all the way to the restaurant. “Hanissa eat now? Mommy and Hanissa eat?” She wasn’t convinced until food was set down in front of her. Then a huge smile spread across her face. “Yay! Hanissa eat!”
Another day, walking to the market, we passed a disabled beggar on the street. I was carrying Hanissa on my back and didn’t notice her concern until we had passed by the man. She went from babbling happily about the river to asking, “Man dead? Mommy! Mommy! Man dead?”
She listens to every word we say and I often miss the impact of simple phrases. Like the time a friend had a minor medical emergency, and was carted around the city in pain and exhaustion by well-meaning locals. Speaking on the phone, I made the comment, “He must be dead.” I continue talking and hear Hanissa from the other room asking sadly, “Uncle A dead?” It seemed like such a random question. It wasn’t until I backtracked the phone conversation (something I’m learning to do with many of Hanissa’s questions) that I figured out the source of her worry.
It makes sense that she is sad and mournful after looking at pictures of the friends she left behind. I understand her fear of being alone. When the herd instinct, learned in the orphanage, kicks in, I get it. I see the reason she sometimes reverts back into “babyhood.” I’ve read the books, watched the videos, taken the classes, but still I’m not prepared when those hidden scars make their way to the surface.
A few days ago, we sat watching the movie Ice Age together with friends. I hadn’t watched the movie in years and had forgotten that they whole movie dealt with a lost child. My girl didn’t see the scene when tigers attacked the humans, but she soon caught on that the baby was lost, separated from his parents.
H became very concerned and began asking, “Where’s the baby’s Mommy? Where’s the baby’s Daddy?”
“The animals are taking the baby back to his Daddy. See (a scene with the father searching appears on screen), the Daddy is looking for his baby, too.” I explained.
That did it. Silent tears started to flow. H asked softly, “Where’s the Daddy? Where’s the Daddy? Daddy find the baby, no?” More tears. More questions.
Leaving the room wasn’t an option, she had to know that this Daddy and baby were reunited and home together. And when the Father finally held the baby, H began sobbing uncontrollably. Instead of relief, this reunion caused grief. I scooped her up and carried her out of the room.
In her crying, H reverted back to speaking Amharic. It was as if she were in another place remembering. She cried and screamed and cried some more. I held her and rocked feeling completely inadequate. Then, the moment was over. She slumped in my arms, exhausted. With red, swollen eyes she said, “Me LIKE that movie NO!”
Every adoptive parent longs to know the true history of their child. I want to know how to help my sweet girl and possibly head off some unnecessary pain. I would love to have the insight to see which words bring fear and which bring trust. It would be helpful to have a “heads-up” about possible emotional fallout. In truth, I may never know. H may never remember or desire to communicate everything. The pieces of the puzzle aren’t missing, just hidden from me. As a mom, it frustrates me.
But I’m not left powerless. I can comfort her when she is sad. I can offer security when she is afraid. I can hold her when she feels vulnerable. I can pray for healing and peace to fill her. I can listen when she needs to talk and give her space when she needs to work it our herself. I can continually assure her that she isn’t alone. I can love her, hidden scars and all.