is it adoption? {or just a 2 year old?}

so often, i find my self asking the same question. i analyse and over analyze.
when crazy stuff happens...when we have an entire day filled with tantrums and crying. when my little girl throws herself on the ground and thrashes her arms and legs because i told her it was time to put her makeup away. when i ask her to eat a bite of her breakfast, but she doesn't like it. so she slams her head back and shoves the plate across the table, spilling eggs and orange juice everywhere.

is it adoption? or is it just a 2 year old?

over the past few weeks, i've been met with more screams than smiles.
my girl is working through something, but i don't know what it is yet.

i love capturing beautiful moments with my kids. with her. because they are real and true and beautiful.
but there is truth happening in between those beautiful moments that must be captured as well.
a lot of realness that can be confusing and frustrating to understand.

i'm writing about it because that's how i process and i'm hoping that in trying to find my way through, maybe someone reading will have advice or insight because they've been there.
in a season with more screams than smiles.

the past 3 weeks have been especially "real." maybe more along the lines of "horrible" but that sounds mean. so i'll say "real" instead. it's more politically correct, i'm sure.
i've had more than a few days when i felt unequipped. incapable. exhausted beyond sleep.
it's mental, emotional, spiritual exhaustion. and yet, the day continues.

if anyone had asked me about how my attachment with emery was going 3 weeks ago, i would have honestly said it's not much of an issue any more. for the most part, we had found a place of peace. even keel. tantrums were present but becoming increasingly minimal. she was finally in a place of asking for help instead of screaming and clawing and hitting. she was sleeping through the night at least 4 out of 7 nights a week. progress in conjunction with sleep was making us all happy people. she's been home a year...it's like she's always been here. we. can. breathe.

so in light of our attachement confidence, clint and i planned a weekend away for our 9th anniversary. a peaceful, wonderful 48 hours together. since he traveled so much this past year, he had free points for a hotel so we gallivanted to the lovely city of baltimore, ate tons of food and slept. a lot. perhaps 1/2 of the weekend was spent asleep. it. was. awesome.
the kids stayed with my parents and had a lovely time. emery, surprisingly, didn't have any obvious issues being apart from us. i was so proud of her...her confidence in our family...her ability to take it all in stride.

and then monday came. oh monday. she woke up screaming. spend the day flailing and angry about everything. fought me to eat and sleep and play. screamed at brothers and made me wonder what on earth was going on.

it has been 3 weeks since our baltimore getaway...and not much has changed. everything seems to make her angry. she screams at night like she used to...back when everything was new and she was terrified. she has regressed to hitting me and the boys when she doesn't get what she wants. and the meltdowns? oh my. it feels like we went back in time 6 months. back to a place that made the whole house feel like a battlefield. when i forced myself to stay calm even though i want to cry. when the boys have to entertain themselves doing who knows what because mommy has to ignore all other parts of life and focus time and love and energy on their sister.

it can be frustrating.
but most of all, sad. very very sad. heartbreaking.

from what i can tell, she is acting out because she felt unsafe or uncertain when we went away. she didn't know where we went or if we were coming back. she can't say "i feel worried. scared. afraid." she has no ability to tell us what she feels. if i couldn't speak, i'd be pretty darn angry too.

i'm not trying to minimize the wonderful spots in our day. because they are still there. we snuggle and laugh and do silly things. play in the sandbox and squirt each other with the hose. she is happy and plays and chases brothers. we hug and she shares toys and eats ice cream and helps me make dinner. we work on family projects and do the normal stuff.

it's the escalation that has changed. her tolerance of brother's playing with a toy she likes or mommy telling her it's time for bed.

she doesn't whimper or whine.
she yells.

screams words at me that i don't understand. my inability to understand only makes it worse. it infuriates her.

last week she refused to allow daddy to hold her or put her to bed...something that hasn't been an issue in over 9 months.

this week, she started rejecting me and noticeably choosing daddy over me.

throughout the day, she will refuse to be held when i can't give her what she wants. she will run from me, screaming and yelling across the room, when previously she would have run into my arms.

i keep telling myself, "she's trying to tell me she is hurt. i'm going to listen to what she is trying to say and not take it personally."

but the non-verbal-ness of our life is becomeing increasinly frustrating for emery.
we found out last week during her speech therapy evaluation that emery's verbal conprehension (what she understands) is astonishingly 2 months ahead of her age!
(seriously smart, bright, intellegent girl over here) 
...but her verbal communication skills are the age of a 12 month old.  can you imagine understanding everything, but being unable to speak? talk in giberish for a whole day and see what you get accomplished. it's rough.

a prime example happened at the pool on friday. we met up with 4 dear friends and their kids. swimming children where everywhere and emery wanted in and out and in and out of the pool. she wanted held and put down. up down, up down. the usual. i roll with it and try to oblige children in all directions.

my 4 year old, (who gets shy and uncertain when lots of kids are around) was hanging close by. he wanted so badly for me to swim with him. to spend some time together. to practice his newly learned underwater swimming. at least 10 times i told him,
"in a minuet buddy...mommy needs to help emery stop crying...help emery get a snack...help emery...on and on."
it breaks my heart when i have to choose one child's needs over the other. i knew he needed a special moment with me. he's the one who reacts most when sister is having a hard day.

{someday i'll post about the dynamic between the two of them. it's a long post. wrought with real sibling love, but also with tears and a mom who feels deep guilt for the year my middle child has had.}

he had been begging me to help him jump off the diving board....for the first time with no life jacket.
a big moment in kid land.
emery was destracted with friends and bopping around on the deck eating snacks so we headed to the deep end. she saw me swim away and immediately started screaming for me to come back. so i went back, while 4yo headed for the diving board. i told her i was going to help brother jump off the diving board and she could help me cheer him on. no way. she wasn't having it. she clung to me and would not let go. it was one of those "you are making such a big scene, everyone in a 2 mile vicinity is staring at us" moments.

"come on mom! please mom, i really want to jump!"
i could hear 4yo calling from the diving board, ready to dive off. the other kids were lined up behind him. waiting. rooting him on.

so i peeled her screaming body off of mine...but held her up so her flailing didn't land her on the cement of the pool deck. a dear friend picked her up and held her on their lap. the sign of a great friend. she contorted in 1,000 ways, but my dear friend held on, all the while speaking calmly.

i swam to the deep end. "i'll be right back emery! look, i'm right here! (wave) cheer for brother!!"

screaming. flailing. horror.

after a moment of coaxing, brother jumps. we all cheer and root for him. his friends and big brother congratulate him and he his confidence soars. he wants to keep jumping.

so i wave at emery (still screeching) while i tread water.
rowan jumps 5 more times...he beams with pride and we high five a million times.
it's a moment i want to remember always...the look in his eyes...so proud of himself.

i take a moment to swim back to emery, who stops screaming she sees me heading in her direction.
"hi sweetie! good job calming down!! come swim with mama!"

she scowls. and pulls away, clinging to my friend who is holding her and refuses to let me get close.

and i cried. on the inside, of course. on the outside i held it together.
her pain was so raw. she wanted me to know how much she is hurting. how much she needs to know i'm not going to leave her.
i smiled and said, "ok, sweetie, i'll hold you when you're ready" and tried not to make a big deal. within a few moments, she was bopping around and seemed to forget about her little stint. i picked her up and she laid her head on my shoulder.

and i wondered. what is going on within my sweet baby?

is it adoption? or is this just a 2 year old?
perhaps a tender mixology of both.

there is also an extreem element of control.
she demands it. does anything to maintain it.

her desire to be in control is so extreme that i often find myself questioning how to harness it.

during her 14 months in china, she had no control over any part of her life. no control over her hunger. pain. loneliness. no control over who held her or how they treated her. it changed the way she reacts to life. each step of this journey shows just how deeply the first year of life impacts a persons' future. their world view. their capacity to trust.

my tender, sweet, lovely girl. in many ways, she came out of her former circumstances resilient and capable of conquering huge obstacles. she can be flexible and tender and loving. but following close beside is her need to have control of something. anything. everything. it can be very intense.

i am re-reading "The Connected Child" (thanks to the reminder from my friend who has been experiencing something similar) and seeing out advice from friends who have walked this road.
i'm trying my best to give her choices throughout the day to help empower her and give her the security of knowing we value what she thinks and feels about life.

but what about dealing with those feelings of being out of control? that's a huge part of life that we all must deal with. 
how do i help her manage it?

what's funny is most people don't get to see this side of her.
she so dainty.
much smaller in person than pictures portray.
she's kind and gentle and very caring.
she looks out for people around her and has a silly, magnetic personality.

but there is a side to her that is full of pain and anger.
she was a lone warrior. adopting her didn't take away her pain.
after a year of endless hugs and kisses and weeks on end spent holding her and singing to her and meeting every physical and emotional need possible... she still doubts me.

is there any truer example of the way i react to my Savior? this entire adoption journey continues to strike me as a reflection of the way i doubt Gods ability and desire to love and comfort me. protect and provide for me. it's profound to see it right in front of me, over and over.

what i have to give will never be enough for her. i can't fill the depth of her soul...where her deepest pain lives.

but praise the Lord, we were created to be filled and healed by our Creator.

i have no idea when we will get back our place of peace, but i know this season in our relationship as a family is important. God wants me to see my own doubt as i watch emery's. to see the ways i reject the One who matters most...and how painful that rejection is.

is it adoption? is it our relationship with God?
it's a delicate mixology.
more than what can be expressed or imagined.
and the joy that is found within all of this uncertainty is greater than i can ever describe.

are there any mama's out in blogland who have advice? experience with these things??  i'd love to hear from you.
(ps. if you leave a comment, please be sure that you add a public email address to your google profile so i can write back to you...or include it in your comment. there are so many people i would love to write back to, but sadly, they don't have a public email address.)


  1. We haven't quite experienced this level of independence/control. Milo has recently (especially since his birthday earlier this month) become *very* independent. He wants to do *everything* by himself - his most repeated phrase is "I did it!" Even things he simply cannot do yet (because of height, motor skills, or just maturity), he gets mad if we even attempt to help him. While Milo has begun to talk more, it is still often difficult to understand him. This also very upsetting to him (& us!). Our days are still filled with grunts & whines, which can progress into yells & screams if he isn't understood quickly enough.

    I'm sure you've heard it/read it a million times. But for me, repeating a mantra sometimes helps. I have to remind myself often that our son is not really a 3-year-old, even though that is his legal age. With his time in an orphanage, he's at least a year behind, if not more. Like Emery, he understands everything we say to him (& I'm positive he can even differentiate our tones - sarcasm vs serious). But his communication skills & his maturity level... well, they're just not caught up to what he wants them to be. He wants so badly to do all the things his peers do, and what he sees his older sister doing. It's just not time for him, yet.

    I suppose it's good that our kids are so stubborn & independent. It will serve them so well later in life. But for us, as parents, it is very difficult. These kids are so hard (& frustrating) to parent! But also so, so rewarding!

    But, you already knew that!! <3

    I'm sending strong prayers your way!!

  2. It seems like you're doing everything right. You're a great mommy and have amazing children. I hope all gets sorted out soon and that Miss Emery feels safe and sure again.
    Sending hugs...

  3. I started following you when you guest posted on Katie's blog I have been praying since I statrted following. Your story has captured me!!! I appreciate how you share!!!

  4. Goodness.. This breaks my heart. I'm sorry that this is a painful season for your family. I have no words of wisdom (wish I did!), but like all phases, I'm sure this will pass. It's so clear that you are a wonderful, loving and patient mama. I'm so glad you took the time to step away from Emery to focus on Rowan, in that moment. I cant imagine how hard that was, but there's no doubt he needed you. Needed to have your focus and attention. I'll be praying for you all, and that your precious girl will feel safe and secure once again.

  5. Oh Ang... You are such a great mommy! And to recognize the correlation between this and our constant doubt of our God is such an obvious sign that you are growing in faith and learning the lessons you are supposed to learn. What a marker of spiritual maturity to have your eyes opened wide enough to see that and to want to grow from it and feel it! I am reading The Connected Child too and I smiled at some of your responses to Emery ("Good job calming down!") because I'm trying to prepare my heart as well! Wouldn't call myself the most patient person so I'm grateful for sweet friends like you who are paving the way! I'll be calling on you, girl ;) Keep up the great work, Ang! Btw..I keep trying to convince myself it won't be as hard with just one ;) Probably wishful thinking!?! Love u girl!

  6. This so familiar. Our 4 yr twins have been with us 2 1/2 years and each change seems to awaken the unresolved issues they face. It can be expected changes like starting preschool a couple days a week or small ones we can't pick up on. They refuse, yell, start hitting and other odd behavior during the parts of the day we're on a schedule or need sleep. They are afraid of change probably due to what that meant early in life. They don't understand it but feel it and they have to control things to feel better. It takes a lot of patience and I try to remember that responding to their completely irrational (even for a four yr old :) roadblock is something they need to feel loved and secure. We have biological children as well and have learned that many of the things we enforced with them are not appropriate for the twins. It's such a balance of love, discipline, compassion, flexibility. It might be they need to know they have the power to get us to respond and be there. It's just that it's completely irrational because they didn't have the cognitive or speech ability to understand the early harm that was done when it happened. The answer-prayer. Only God can repair their little hearts but He will work through us.

  7. Don't beat yourself up for going away for a weekend... she's been with you for a year and she knows your loving parents. Marriages need time, too. Just a thought... would she be happpy knowing more sign language? I think I read here that they wanted Emery to limit signing so she would reach for verbal communication. Maybe a few more signs would helps bridge the gap and reduce her frustration in the short term.?? ~Lindy

  8. Thank you so much for sharing your struggles. I will be praying for you and your family as you go through this very real time. So thankful Emery (and you!) has such a wonderful family to support her through all of this.

  9. If you don't already know, I can relate 1000%. Honestly, with three others competing for my attention, sometimes Shu just does not get me at certain moments. We tried to get to the pool once every two weeks this summer--me with all four kids, and only the oldest is a "swimmer." Often Shu had to go in his floaty baby ring thing where he could splash in the water and be totally safe. And more than once, that meant him screaming for 20 minutes (or more) while I tried to enjoy my other kids enjoying themselves. He now knows what it means to "get happy." He'll even say it. It's not that his emotions aren't real or that it's never OK to cry. But there are times when he's going to have to learn to regulate; I can't do that for him all the time. My Princess Firecracker had a horrendous year b/t 2 and 3. And she's not adopted! So I don't always want to attribute his fits to adoption trauma, when instead he might just be acting his age. There is definitely some rigidity and control in him, so we are teaching choices/options, etc. But there is also great safety for children in knowing that they are not actually in control--that mom and dad are. Cuts both ways, I know. :) Anyway...I'm praying and working this out just like you are. I know you are a terrific mama and daughter of God. Oh, and P.S.--very much understand the speech factor too. Shu has now progressed past 12 mos. but only recently. Makes it very, very difficult.

  10. Dear Sweet Mama,
    you are doing great! you are an amazing mama and you are doing everything the right way, the way that you are suppose to do it. the way a mama do it.
    emery sees it, and God knows it. He also knows your heart. So be kind with yourself and take a step back and just do what comes naturally. You are doing great!

    It sounds to me like a mix of both... her being scared that you are not coming back (after your anniversary-having-the-time-of-your-life..hehhe..) and just being 2. It's hard being 2. I remember when my son, who we adopted at 18 months in South Africa, was 2. I used to joke and say it is the Terrific Twos because he was so good and such a happy little boy...then at the end of his 2nd year going into 3... oh boy! I asked the same questions. I second guessed everything I was doing. And looking back today, (he is 5 years old now), it seems more the part of being 2 going on 3 than being adopted.

    About a year ago I found a website, www.handinhandparenting, which changed my life. They say that when a child has a meltdown, they are processing some hurt, whether of today or their past. 5 months after we adopted his little sister, he had a meltdown in the car, i pulled the car over and held him. (that is all that is required according to the website)... for 40 minutes of him screaming and trying to bite me and kick and saying the most hurtful things to me... i just kept calm, reassuring him how much i love him... after 40minutes he broke down in tears, big, heavy sobs and said; ' i did not want a baby, i am your baby'.

    phew... i've been doing the staylistening (that is what they call this process where you hold your child and rock him until they are calm) for a year now and it is amazing. I believe the healing that has taken place within his little heart is enormous and it also brought us closer. Sometimes there just no words and they just need us to hold the space for them to let go of the hurt/anger and to hear how much we love them.

    I also remember a friend who worked with me always used to say 'this too shall pass... everything is ok' and when he got so upset, I used to use that sentence as a mantra...

    My email address is lynnemalan@gmail.com

    You are welcome to write...and sometimes one needs a place to just also say it as it is... without thinking about every word. I'm here, and you are more than welcome to let your steam off... of to let go of your tears. I know how hard it sometimes can be.

    I'll pray for you, for acceptance, for letting go, for a smile from her heart... i 'pray for emery for pass hurts to be healed and that she can truly embrace and accept the love you and your family give her... it will come, in time.

    Lots of love and a big big mama hug for you,

    Lin xx

  11. Again, your rawness and honesty is so refreshing. Thanks for sharing your heart, you are amazing!!! We actually just got our copy of The Connected Child today, in preparation to travel and bring our little Nora home this fall (you can see our little miss at www.fullness-of-grace.blogspot.com). Keep writing and keep your candor, in addition to having a documentation of your journey with your sweet boys and Emery, you are helping so many others who are also on a similar journey!!!

  12. As an adopted kid who had a really rough start to life, let me say this...hang in there. You are doing so much more than the average person. You are excelling. Even in the moments when you feel like a total failure. Just hang in there. I am a happy and whole adult who loves both of my parents dearly. You can make it. You can't mend the hurt that's been done. But you are writing a new and better story for her life. So just hang in there.

    Praying for you!

  13. I just found your blog through Under the Sycamore and just wanted to add another comment of reassurance. I have three boys 3, 6, and 9 all of which are biological children. My first was so easy I thought I had this parenting thing figured out. Then came the middle child who had a speech delay and would bite when he was frustrated and couldn't communicate with his older brother. Then my youngest son came along. For the first 2 and 1/2 years he was such a sweet laid back little guy but as of late he definitely is going through a phase:) He likes to follow the "big boys" but gets frustrated that he can't do everything they can so instead may hit, scream, or say things that are not the kindest. He is a sweetheart one minute, wanting to cuddle like he's still a baby, and then the next minute wanting to only be with "brothers" and not mom or dad. It has to be so hard wondering what part is adoption and what is the age or personality, etc. but I hope this may reassure you a bit. Along with adoption, personality, and age is birth order which seems huge in my family and alot of my friends' families as well. It sounds like you are doing an amazing job and I think you handled the situation withe older brother on the diving board wonderfully! And cheers to great friends who help and understand!

  14. I've been thinking about this post for a couple days so I wanted to come back and comment. I think its a mixture of both. The 2's (and the 3's - holy cow, no one warned me about 3) are very challenging! They are trying to build their autonomy and sense of self which often comes with defiance and tantrums. I also think that the weekend away could have also triggered some experiences she had while she was in the orphanage. I don't think you should feel guilty for going away or avoid going away in the future (goodness knows mamas and daddys need some alone time to keep sane) but I think it is also something to be aware of. This is a different situation but I think there may be some common ties. I had to have emergency surgery on June 3rd and it completely freaked Abby out. I spent almost three weeks in a seven week period in the hospital. Any sense of "normal" that Abby had went out the window in those seven weeks. Before surgery we were getting very close to her being 100% potty trained but when I went in the hospital (and all the chaos that surrounded it) she reverted back completely (and we are still trying to get back to that point) and holy cow the tantrums. She had one in the hospital visiting me of EPIC proportions. EPIC. I finally got her calmed down enough to tell me what was going on. She told me that she didn't want me in the hospital anymore. She later told my mom that she was sad and when my mom asked why she said that she was sad that she knew I would never get any better because my belly was too sick. I understand that she is a little older and verbal (even though it took her awhile to get to the place that she could verbalize what she as feeling during this time) than Emery but the point I am trying to make is that I think with kids this age behavior is often the only way that they know how to communicate and once we are able to recognize their patterns and responses to certain triggers we are better able to respond to their needs. I'm still battling health issues which is frustrating but I have picked up cues on ways to respond to Abby to help her understand. I don't know if any of this is helpful at all or if I just needed to spill all of this out but I just wanted to let you know that you are not alone! I love reading your blog because of your honesty and transparency. Though we've never met in person, I feel like I am able to know you through your writing and feel comforted knowing someone is traveling a similar journey of parenting after adoption.

  15. Reading this is like reading the story of my life right now. Found you from under the sycamore....we brought home our Chinese daughter (turned 2 on Aug 20th) 8 months ago and it's been the hardest and longest 8 months of our lives. I, like you, have two boys, 5 and 4. My middle son is having the hardest time because her aggression is directed towards him. And he couldn't be sweeter about it, but I know he's hurting. I would love to email you privately and learn more about any strategies that you have used that have worked. I have read The Connected Child, twice...and watched all of Karen Purvis' videos. But communication issues hinder us from using some of her tactics.
    My email address is jaimekimsey@hotmail.com. We live in Georgia...near Atlanta.
    We don't blog, but we do have a shutterfly account....twoboysandachinadoll.shutterfly.com

    Look forward to hearing from you!



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