It's been fascinating to me how, over the past almost-two-and-a-half years, the kids have taken turns being at the forefront of Geoff's and my parenting attentions. It's like the three of them have some kind of secret code that lets the other two know when the one is ready to settle down and pass the torch off to another.
For a long time after we came home, our focus on Seth, helping him through the hard and horrible transition he went through: The grief; alpha issues; the heart-defendedness; and the thousand or so other issues and behaviours that, at first, seemed so insurmountable. Around the time that he finally and visibly began to visibly, Matthew's adaptation challenges seemed to come to a head and we worked dang hard for a long time at loving him into the kid we're seeing emerge today - who has matured by leaps and bounds over the past six or seven months and who seems to be again the same personality as before Seth and Lizzie joined our family. It was a really long and challenging parenting haul between the two boys. Almost two and a half years between them, actually.
And now, it seems, we have a third parenting challenge on our hands: Lizzie. Whew, this girl, I tell you. Just a couple of weeks ago, she looked at me, hands on her hips, and said to me, "Mommy, just warning you...when I'm a teenager, you're gonna have your hands full!" Though I have no idea where she got such a notion, I felt shaken with the sudden realization that she was probably right about that!
In fact, I'm not needing to wait for the teen years because she is already quite the handful these days. Holy Cow seems to be an appropriate response to her shenanigans. It seems to be her turn on the roller coaster of our parenting journey, 'cause we seem to be putting a lot of our focus on her these days.
Although Lizzie's issues don't seem to be attachment related, there's something going on there that we are digging into. She demonstrates a lot of the same behaviours that a lot of kids do at her age, and a few more that I believe are adoption/trauma related, but regardless of the behaviours, how we approach her is critical given how she came into our family.
This is a kid who, as I've mentioned before, is a highly extraverted girl with a gift not only of understanding how to charm people but also, being able to pinpoint where people's vulnerabilities are! The latter gift is exercised with military precision on her parents and brothers, and with increasing confidence and skill. There are a thousand things every day...and I'm barely exaggerating.
Just the other day, for example, after she'd already been poking at Matthew and making him a little crazy, she disappeared for a few minutes and must have been in the boys' room (a big no-no when the boys aren't there) because she reappeared holding a clean pair of Matthew's underwear. While I watched in fascination, wondering what she was up to, she held that underwear up high and dangled it from her finger tips. Poised like that she said, in a sing-songy loud voice, "oh Maaa-tthew, guess what I have heee-re???!!" and waited for him to look at her.
Of course, he was furious that she had touched something of hers (another big no-no for all of the kids), and so he took off after her while she ran away and laughed, head thrown back in a huge, somewhat-evil-sounding belly laugh. They made it as far as the library, where Matthew launched himself into the air and took her down in a full body tackle. He grabbed the underwear from her hand, shook a finger in her face and yelled that she shouldn't be touching his stuff. She was still laughing and the term "ha ha" came out of her mouth - unbelievably nervy, frankly, given that Matthew was sitting on her. I don't know how he stopped himself from manually trying to wipe the smirk off of her face, but I did mention his newly-found maturity, right?? I was impressed with him and, more grudgingly, with her, too. I arrived at their sides at around this point, and pulled them apart before the incident led to pain on anyone's part!
...it wasn't five minutes later when Lizzie reappeared in Matthew's face, this time holding a favourite shirt in her fingertips. The whole situation repeated itself.
After the second incident, I took Lizzie aside and reminded her about going into the boys' bedroom while they weren't there, and reminded her, too, of how all three of them had developed a rule about not touching each other's stuff without permission. She said that she wouldn't do it again, but of course I know that her brain is not yet wired to be able to hold that thought in her head while other, more thrill-seeking thoughts are also swirling around in there. So, for a while, I kept her with me and occupied her with some math work and other stuff. But a couple of hours later, to my shock (and amazement, frankly) the whole thing happened again when I sent Lizzie scampering off to play...this time she came back with one of Matthew's pairs of pants. Sigh.
Lizzie is not the delicate flower that I see in many like-aged girls. She might be small in stature for her age; she might be (a little bit) into purses and babies and pretty things; but she is one tough little nut when it comes to her brothers, and she is so densely packed, physically, that she is actually able to take down her brothers when she puts a little effort into it...they're bigger and stronger than she is, but no one can cling to a leg as tenaciously or be as free with karate kicks (accompanied by a "hay-yah" sound) as that little girl.
She's only six, for Pete's sake, and she's neither daunted nor willing to give up on anything she has set her mind to. I could write a book about her shenanigans!
Just this week, when I was up to my eyeballs with frustration about a morning's worth of really horrid behaviour (for example, continuing to shove things like hair brushes and dolls, etc, down warm air vents, etc etc etc), I said to her, "OK, Lizzie, you and I need to have a little cuddle chat and figure out what's going on here. Something's not working here. Everything's going to be ok, and you and I are totally fine, but let's go into the library, please, and we'll figure this out together."
She stuck her bottom lip out and, in a classic pose of counterwill, said "I don't think so!" and she stomped off up the stairs, headed towards her bedroom.
I was internally at odds as I thought quickly: On the one hand, my buttons had been pushed and so I was fighting my own frustration; but on the other hand, I knew that venting my frustration by delivering consequences would be fruitless and my priority always is to maintain relationship. I took a deep breath and then recognized another feeling: My funny bone had been tickled...part of me I felt like laughing because she is just so full of fire and sparkle and determination. I admire a kid for such demonstrations of obstinance (sp?). The humour side of me won that battle and, although I kept a straight face, I decided to play the game a little...one that I knew would work to further our relationship even in the midst of our little war.
"You know what, Lizzie?" I said, with a friendly tone. "I think that's actually a great idea, if you want to head to your room to chill for a little bit while I'm in the library. Feel free to go if you'd like. That works for me."
I didn't think her lip could jut out any farther but clearly it could. Without missing a beat, and in another fantastic and completely predictable demonstration of counterwill, she wheeled around at the midpoint up the stairs, and thunked back downstairs and into the library, where she plunked herself down in the middle of my favourite chair. Ready to engage.
Not to be deterred, I simply sat in the other chair and put my feet up. Pulled a cozy blanket over me. I knew the worst was over.
Because that's where all the counterwill in her dies. Within ten seconds of my sitting down, all of her fire was gone and she had launched herself into my lap, and she snuggled under the blanket and into me with a sigh and a muttered "I'm sorry, mama, for not listening very well. I love you mama. I'll try to listen more." I hadn't even said a word and I had her expression of good intent; even knowing that she'll fail to listen a thousand times more, I had her good intentions (which eventually, with mixed feelings, will translate into the behaviour I'm hoping for someday) and I'd maintained our relationship. I couldn't ask for more...the rest will all come.
Much later, after we'd read a book together and after we'd watched (from our cozy perch) the boys perform some crazy gymnastics moves, Lizzie and I had a brief (like, 30 seconds or less) chat about warm air vents and other issues that had been cropping up that morning and, again, she expressed good intent. That was good enough for me.
The bottom line for Lizzie is that, despite all of the toughness that she can display on the exterior, she is a marshmallow on the inside - a loving, highly affectionate, cuddly little thing that loves nothing more than snuggling on a parent's lap and being read a story.
She's a firecracker with a heart! She's going to be an amazing adult...if we survive the next twelve or twenty years!
She's such a fascinating child, that Lizzie girl of mine. A conglomeration of endearing and irritating qualities...like all of us, I guess!
Despite the humour in these situations, we are working very hard on finding ways to parent her in such a way that will keep her out of the flames while while she hangs on to the fire.
Because she doesn't have her mixed feelings yet, we're just trying to manage her until she gets to the point where she can hold two things in her head at once; then she'll be more able to think something like: "Huh, I want to slug my brother; but on the other hand, I don't want to annoy him so I'll not do it."
We're not there yet, and some days it feels like I can't hang on for one more day waiting for that mixed temper to arrive, but in the meantime we're trying to just wait it out without doing any damage to the strength of relationship we have with her.
We're continuing, also, to work with our Neufeld consultant, to whom I give the credit for helping so profoundly with how we parent our boys. These days our conversations are mostly about Lizzie...but that's ok, too. The boys have each certainly consumed their shares of those conversations. Now it's Lizzie's turn, and it's going to take some time.
Knowing my kids, though, and given that secret code they seem to enjoy at our expense, they're probably already trying to decide amongst themselves who will step up and provide us with the next parenting challenge!
Game on. We can handle it.