Friday, September 26, 2014

Girl, Confidential

K and I had an astounding conversation the other day. It concerned mean girls and birth control.

Before this conversation, K had been nearly silent about school. Peter and I had been trying nightly to open her up, asking easy questions like, "Who did you have lunch with?" and "What was your favorite part of the day?" She would always answer, but tell us no more than we asked. I wanted to respect her privacy, but I did not want her to feel alone with whatever she might be encountering. Peter and I have always had a general attitude that is best described as, "Observe closely but don't intervene unless necessary." However, we had not yet found a way to observe K's school day. 

So I'd been searching for a way in when I happened to ask K whether she remembered that a specific girl in her homeroom had been a friend in preschool. (The girl's mother and I had been in touch.) K smiled and explained that the other girl had remembered her first, and now the two of them have rekindled their friendship. My adoptive parent's heart filled with happiness at this continuity in K's discontinuous life.

She went on to tell me all about the alliances that have formed since the start of school: who is friends with whom, who is mean to whom. K said that one girl in particular has said cruel things to her preschool friend. "So I'm not friends with that girl. She even invited me to be in her group, but I don't want to be."

I asked, "Because she's mean to your friend?"

She replied, "Yeah. And because she dresses and acts so...weird. She pushes her sweaters off the shoulder, and she wears tight clothes, and she wiggles her butt a lot. So do her friends. But I don't want to."

Trying to sound casual, but secretly thrilled, I reflected back, "You don't want to?"

She said, "No. I think those girls want to do things I don't want to do. Like, go to parties where people are making out and stuff. I am SO not into that. I don't want them to invite me."

My adoptive parent's heart wondered, How is it that this kid, who is supposed to have identity issues, knows exactly who she is and what she wants?  My skeptic's brain also said, Yeah; just wait for the hormones to kick in.

K and I discussed the fact that she has a handful of girl friends moving at about her speed. I'm glad. I didn't have any friends like me when I was her age--rather, I had one, but she went to a different school. And then--I forget how we got there-- she asked me about preventing pregnancy. This didn't surprise me. She plans ahead, and in general she is curious about the human body.

For the record, we have not yet talked as a family about values concerning premarital sex. However, we have always been careful to discuss sex as something that happens between consenting adults in a committed relationship who have known each other a long time. 

I've mentioned before that I used to work for Planned Parenthood. One of my responsibilities was educating clients about reproduction and birth control. I did this so many times that I learned to do it with and without props, in simple and complex language, and so on, but I rarely had to do it with 11-year-old girls who are not even menstruating. But I still had my skills.

If you don't want to know what I told her, please skip the following paragraph.

I explained very simply that what works best is abstinence and what works worst is the calendar method and pulling out. Then I ran down the list of available methods, making sure to emphasize that every one of them is more effective if used with a condom. I mentioned using condoms to prevent STDs. I mentioned that there are other kinds of sex to have besides intercourse. And that was all she wanted to know.

I have deep respect for parents who don't wish to discuss such matters with their kids; if you're one of them, I'm not recommending you change your views. You know what works for your family. What I said to my daughter is simply what works for mine.

For the record, K thanked me, folded up the paper I'd drawn on, kissed me, and went to play with her brother. Since this conversation, she has talked to me every day about the social scene at school (not about birth control).

I am so grateful we found a way to connect. I got a little more connection than I bargained for, but maybe it'll teach her that I'm safe to approach even about sex.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Listening to Puberty

Remember when I nearly drove into a tree when K reported underarm hair for the first time? Well, now both kids are reporting a lot of hair. All over. K has started sleeping late; M has started to be hungry all the time. Their feet are growing like gangbusters. M and K are 10y 6m and 11y 6m, respectively.

I didn't get body hair or menstruate until age 14, and I didn't have much interest in the opposite sex until some time afterwards. Peter's timetable was even later. It took listening to my adoption support group for me to recognize this growth for what it is: an early stage of puberty.

One of the hard parts about puberty for adoptive families is that our kids can't refer to us to find out what to expect. Information is out there, of course. K and M are fortunate in that our school system provides units on puberty; and the literature for kids has expanded considerably since my own childhood. Peter's a physician; I used to do education for Planned Parenthood. K and M will have access to any information they need. But not much that's personal. I was always told, "Ask your mother how it went for her," but K won't find a whole lot that's relevant if she asks me.

Another hard part about puberty for adoptive parents? As our kids learn about what causes pregnancy, issues may come up for them concerning the circumstances of their own birth. Peter and I can't anticipate what these might be, if any come up at all, but we've got our ears open.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Permission To Keep Blogging, 2014-25 School Year

I do this every year, but I've never posted the actual conversation I have with M and K, so here goes. We discussed this two days ago, in the car.

Me: "Guys, you know I write about you on the internet, right?"

M and K: (nod, not looking up from their books)

Me: "Guys, I can't look back there. Did you hear me? You know I write about you in a blog?"

M and K: "Yes."

Me: "May I keep writing about you? To teach other people about being an adoptive family?"

M and K: "Yes."

K (finally looks up): "You don't use our pictures, right?"

M: "Or our real names? You had that stalker, right?"

Me: "Right. No pictures. No names. You have your privacy."

K and M (noses back in their books): "Okay!"

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Two Schools Once Again

We are into the second week of the school year, and once again K and M are in different schools.

Way back in September 2008, 5-year-old K moved on to kindergarten while 4-year-old M remained in preschool. They were in different schools, which meant different buildings, different schedules, different friends. They fought like devils for about three weeks prior and three weeks following the first day of school. Why? M told it best at the time: "I scared kindergarten. When I see K--, I think kindergarten and I feel scared; so I hit her."

Peter and I braced ourselves for similar outbursts this month, when M starts his final year of elementary school while K starts middle school. So far, no problem. While we did notice that both kids sought lots of hugs and kisses from us, and both had trouble sleeping for a few nights before school started, they have not been fighting with each other any more than usual. I guess that's what happens when you grow up a little.

The middle school here is just fabulous. The faculty really seem to "get" this age--they are firm and flexible, with a healthy sense of humor. I think I'll learn a lot from them. K is thrilled by the choices opening up to her. Sing in chorus? Study French? Learn ballroom dance? She has always enjoyed new things, so she's happy. M, meanwhile, gets to enjoy the privileges of 5th grade, such as extra recess and running PTO Pasta Night.

Both kids are once again on different schedules, which means I get more time alone with each of them than I have during the last few years. I'm now realizing what a gift this is. Both kids are beginning puberty, as are their peers, so they have questions and observations that they want to share privately. (I'll post separately about those.) I get close-up of each child's tiny, daily changes, which I hope will help me respond to them better as they enter this challenging time.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Summer Check-in

Hi, readers. Thanks for staying with me. I've been vacationing and taking a writing class, so I've not had much time to keep up here.

It's been a busy but relaxing summer. I am now caught up on sleep for what must be the first time since we got the adoption referral eight years ago. I'm gathering editing work for during the school year, meanwhile cleaning out the garage and my office, neither of which has seen much attention in some time.

M and K both were CITs (counselors-in-training) at the day camp they've attended since age 4. They spent two weeks at an overnight camp, forming friendships that they still talk about. Both kids asked to go back next year, though K says she'd like to stick with two weeks "because there were spiders in my cabin." Peter and I spent our kid-free weekend visiting friends who have a quiet cabin on a lake (read: sleeping a lot).
      The kids are now in tennis camp. M loves tennis; K, who continues to be able to pick up any physical skill in a day or two, loves it less. Peter and I dearly hope they will both want to continue it during the school year.
I'll be away at a writers conference for the next several days: five nights, the longest I will have been away from home since we've had the kids. My anxiety shows itself in my nightmares, which are about going to a faraway college for a four-year degree. Sheesh.

Both kids are now comfortable staying home alone for short periods of time (under 2h for K, under 1h for M). While K was sick last week, I did not have to cancel all my appointments and stay home with her, which made me much more cheerful. This stay-at-home practice will be helpful during the coming school year, when the kids will be on different schedules at different schools. (K is entering middle school, remember?)

Thursday, July 03, 2014

A Reminder: Preadoptive? Be Prepared

We spent the weekend before last with several families from FRUA, Families for Russian and Ukrainian Adoption. This organization provides educational resources and a sense of community to families who might otherwise not have either. Over the course of the weekend, we witnessed or learned about issues with which some families are wrestling. While I can't say anything about individual families, I will list these issues below to remind you that some adopted children--like some children by birth--need more help than others. I've mentioned some of these in other posts over the years, but it's time I did so again. Please note that my parenthetical comments are NOT intended to be diagnostic. I'm not an expert, even on my own kids.

That weekend we saw or otherwise learned about:

-Sensory issues such as dislike of bathing, certain clothes, many foods
(Can stem from early childhood confined indoors, or to a crib, or otherwise lacking in sensory exploration.)

-A lifelong habit of poor hygiene
(Can be a remembered protective measure against sexual abuse.)

-Theft and vandalism
(Can happen for reasons including, but not limited to, memories of poverty; distorted conscience or boundaries because of poor attachment; lack of understanding of consequences because of FAS [Fetal Alcohol Syndrome].)

-Oppositional or violent behavior towards parents
(Can come from early learning that adults are not to be trusted--e.g. neglect or abuse. Sometimes, kids contending with this issue cannot live at home.)

-Lack of empathy for other people and animals
(Can result from lack of empathy and/or lack of understanding of consequences; see #1 and #2 above.)

I cannot emphasize enough that adoptive parents must be prepared to learn and seek help. Peter and I risked adopting preschool-age children raised in an eastern European orphanage because we live in an area where help is easy to find. If we lived in an area where such adoptions were rare, where no medical professionals knew international adoption medicine, and where no therapists worked with kids who have attachment issues, we would not have adopted K and M. Why not? Because we would have risked damaging already fragile human beings. Yes--this means that, rather than adopting our beautiful children, we would have allowed them to be placed where they could have gotten better care. In other words, adoption is not about the parents. It's about the children.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Busy Transition

There's a lot going on, but today is the kids' last day of school--a half-day--so I am awfully short on time today and all week. Meanwhile, I've got a small freelance PR project going, a pro-bono book critique, and lots of homework for a class I'm taking.

We took a weekend trip with a group of families with children adopted from Russia and Ukraine, and I learned a lot that I'd like to detail here, but it's going to have to wait. Meanwhile, here's my usual advice to parents during this end-of-school transition.
-Hold fast to discipline and routines to help your kids feel secure.
-Remind yourself and your kids that endings often evoke many feelings at the same time, and all are acceptable. (The feelings are acceptable. How they're acted upon, of course, might not be!)
-Have compassion for your kids' feelings of loss, which may run deeper than you realize.
-Cherish the moments when you yourself can find replenishment.

Good luck. Be gentle.