Sunday, December 13, 2015

Love and Affection

 Frannie's arms feel good around my neck.

It hardly sounds like something worthy of a blog post, but when you have waited nearly an entire year to experience that feeling, it is.

I have always wanted this blog to be an honest place to talk.  I try to tell about the times that are hard and the times that are amazing.  I hope that someone in a hotel room in China with an inconsolable child does some googling and comes up with my blog entries about how hard China was with Emmie.  I hope that a mom just starting to give her picky 2 year old Exjade comes across my post about putting it in yogurt.  And I also hope that someone who has been home for 9 months with a child who accepts little affection finds this post and finds comfort.

Frannie has been the toughest nut to crack when it comes to giving and receiving affection.  For months she's been happy, fun, comfortable and settled in.  But something was seriously lacking in the affection department.  When I picked her up and held her, she didn't hold me back.  She'd just flop over my shoulder like a sack of potatoes.  Strapping her into her carseat I'd lean over to kiss her chubby cheek, and she'd turn her face as quickly as possible.  If I asked to kiss her, she'd lean over and give me the top of her head--at best.  Night after night we'd tuck her in and go to kiss or hug her and she'd turn away.  Patrick would say, "That baby doesn't care one bit if we kiss or hug her."  And it was true.

I've read on lots of blogs where adoptive moms said that they felt more like a babysitter than mother to their newly adopted and unaffectionate kids.  I wouldn't go that far...the babysitter wouldn't lay and bed and dream of the day that the baby would feel affection towards them.  A babysitter wouldn't love a baby so much that it hurt.  But I did.  My heart would hurt when I thought about how badly I wanted her to demonstrate affection towards me.  But I'm an adoptive parent.  I'm patient, compassionate, understanding of my childrens' journey, and I know it's not about me.  Right?  No, absolutely wrong.  I'm imperfect, and as the months wore on, it really started to bother me.  I remember talking to another mom about how hard the days can sometimes be with toddlers, and she said, "But at the end of the day when they curl up on your lap and hug you and kiss you it all melts away."  I felt heartbroken, because I didn't have that.  Frannie never kissed me or hugged me or ran into my arms.

Do not get me wrong.  She acted happy as could be.  Happier and happier as the months went by.  Smiling, relaxed, and you could tell she felt safe.  Eating, giggling, and playing with all of us.  So that was wonderful and indicated to us that she was becoming more attached.  So we waited.  But I felt bad for her...she was missing out on all of those wonderful warm feelings that rush through your body when someone you love kisses you or hugs you.  All of those feelings we share with our other daughters.  And I wanted her to share that, too.

Other people didn't help the situation.  Despite my best efforts to educate people for the third time about how things should go while we worked on our attachment, people would disregard me...picking her up, hugging her, kissing her.  And, shockingly enough, she'd kiss them back!  The baby who would turn her head away from her mother and father would kiss a stranger.  I had read about this and now I was living it and I didn't like it one bit.  To make it worse, people would say, "Well, look at that!  You said she's not affectionate!  Look at her kissing me!  La-di-da!"  I'd just look at them, wondering if that was a tone of triumph in their voice, and not know if I should be furious or cry.  At some point, I lost my fight.  I didn't even try anymore to ask people to hold back on their affection towards her until she could accept mine.  I let them bask in the glory of her indiscriminate affection, and tried to focus my efforts on how to be the best, most patient mother I could be.

Night after night I'd kiss her turned cheek and then lay awake wondering if it was adoption related.  I try very hard not to make everything into an "adoption issue", but I couldn't help but wonder if she was in some way holding a grudge (so to speak) against us.  Did she not feel affectionate towards us because she knew we took her away from everything she knew?  Or did she shy away from me because I was a poor replacement for her favorite caretakers in China, who were all male?  After months she must have been used to my eyes, the way I smell, my hair, my voice and my touch, right?  So how was it that we could play together and be happy together but she wouldn't hug me back?  Or why did she call for me to protect her and hold her at the hospital, but she wouldn't let me kiss her goodnight?

When I stopped stressing about it being an adoption issue, I came up with a few other ideas why her affection came so slowly.  One is that it's just the way she is.  She's just not a kissy or huggy person--there are plenty of people like that.  I haven't personally seen it a lot in toddlers, but I know it happens.  Another is that there was a huge buffer between her and I:  her sisters.  When we adopted Emmie and Rosie, I had lots and lots of alone time with each of them.  But with Frannie, since the day she came home there has always been at least one sister here.  And, I was guilty of not carving out any designated "Frannie/Mama" time to work on strenghtening our bond.  In our super busy household it's hard to carve out designated time for anything, but this was a mistake.

In September, Emmie went to kindergarten and Rosie started preschool.  I remember remarking to my mother that Frannie was going to absolutely hate being stuck with just me all day.  My mother said, "No.  She's going to LOVE it.  You'll see."  I shook my head in disbelief, but as September turned into October, not only were the leaves changing, but so was Frannie.  She was smiling and laughing even more.  She wanted to hang around me as much as possible.  If I was at the computer she would come over and lay her little head on my lap and cuddle me.  I remember standing at the sink one night and for a minute I thought we got a puppy...but it was little Frannie curling herself around my legs and hugging them.

As the days went on, everything I had dreamed about started to happen.  If I kissed her head out of habit, she'd say, "No, wips!"  [lips]  I'd give her a big hug and she'd say, "I wuv you" without being prompted.  If I tucked her in and got distracted and forgot to kiss her, she'd yell, "Mama!  KSSSS!"  And then shortly before Thanksgiving I remember taking her out of the car and carrying her across the Stop and Shop parking lot and that was the first time I remember her holding me back when I held her.  She put her chubby, warm, little arms tightly around my neck. She was no longer that sack of potatoes.  She was more like a little koala bear, holding on to me and smiling while she nuzzled my neck.  I was shocked.  And it felt so good.

So whatever it was, it's better.  So much better.  It took the better part of a year, though, and it wasn't easy.  Maybe she just needed more time.  Maybe she needed to be with me one-on-one to get more comfortable.  Maybe it was absolutely nothing and I was just stressing over it because I was worried it was an adoption related attachment thing.  And maybe--no, definitely--I was too impatient because it didn't take nearly as long with Emmie and Rosie and I was [wrongly] comparing the 3 different situations.

If you find yourself in the same situation, try to take a deep breath and remember that attachment and love and affection take time and that every child is different.  And as we come up on our one-year anniversary with Frannie, I wish I had been more patient, but you can't really blame me for wanting to love on this sweet little baby who I adore so much.

So in love with her.


Kelleyn Rothaermel said...

So happy the arms around your neck game! Sweet post and I am sure it will be encouraging to those who find themselves in need of encouragement.

Renate said...

Really happy for you both! She is adorable.

Anonymous said...

Precious little angel. Can't wait to see your Christmas pics.

Lilly said...

what a great post! patience and love is all that matters. she has a precious soul! and you too!


rosana gelpi said...

Nice nice post. Im happy for you both!!!!!!

Liz C. said...

I've been following along for the past year or so myself and I am so glad for you that you're getting some returned affection now! You wrote this post beautifully and have such a wonderful attitude about all of the challenges you've encountered so far. Thank you for sharing.

The Jiu Jiu said...

A wonderful post, amazingly open & honest. We all have 20-20 hindsight -- you need to concentrate on that sweet, wonderful feeling of Frannie's hugs & kisses and forgive yourself for any perceived mistakes. I'm really happy you've (finally!) reached this milestone. Have a wonderful holiday season, and enjoy the hugs!!!

shay68 said...

Have tears in my eyes reading this - so happy for you and Frannie. I remember waiting for T to be spontaneous with her hugs and kisses and that pang I felt when she'd hug my mom so hard it was obvious she didn't want to let go...and then I noticed it was happening but she was sneaky about it....and one day I realized that she was the one initiating the hug, the kiss and the "i loof you"....and then one day when I picked her up from preschool she stopped in front of me, looked me in the eye and said "mama i miss you today...i need a kiss" - that was me barely keeping it together in the hallway of her preschool..a simple sentence like that was my complete undoing. Merry Christmas to you all!