Welcome to 30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days, hosted by Portrait of an Adoption. This series will feature guest posts by people with widely varying adoption experiences.
By Candice Warltier
My seven-year old daughter, Antara, had been desperate to get together with another little girl in her school (let’s call the girl “Molly” so it doesn’t come back to haunt me). Antara and Molly aren’t great friends, but I am friendly with Molly’s mom, and Antara was thrilled when Molly's mom invited us on an apple-picking outing.
On the day of the much-anticipated outing, as we approached Molly and her mom, Antara noticed from afar that Molly was holding another friend’s hand. Apparently, Molly had also invited another good friend of hers, a child whose company she prefers. Antara immediately sized up the situation and knew she would be the odd girl out. Antara looked at me and then quickly looked down. I attempted to play it cool and smiled as my stomach turned.
We approached the girls, and Molly and her friend didn’t even look at Antara. I told Antara to say hello, but neither girl said a word to her. Molly and her friend were holding hands, and they turned around and slowly walked away.
I attempted to distract Antara and gave the two other moms the “look” - "why aren’t you asking them to include her?” Antara had tears in her eyes, and I decided that we’d just hang out ourselves on the outing. I tried to make it fun, but I was keenly aware that it wasn’t what Antara had hoped for.
I came home that night, and Antara seemed okay, but I was in tears. It just breaks my heart when kids outright ignore her. This is just one example of my feelings being taken over by Antara’s feelings or behavior.
Then there was the time we were on the way to a sleepover. She looked nervous and kept saying that we were just going to stay for a bit. I was anxious because this was her first “real” sleepover, and I just wanted her to experience the joys of staying up late with a gaggle of girls, eating junk food, and giggling all night.
I sensed she was panicked over which girls would be there, the social dynamic, and whether or not she would be included. My stomach was full of knots when we arrived, and I was prepared to bring her home early but deeply hoped she’d feel comfortable and have a great time. It turns out she did fine and had a really good time; I was the one who spent hours worrying!
It’s been six years since I brought home my sweet baby girl from Nepal. Dealing with my daughter’s social conflict is just one of the many issues I’m grappling with today. It’s been five years ago this month since I wrote my first piece about adjustment for Portrait of Adoption’s November 2011 series. I shared the trials and tribulations of my first year after adopting Antara from Nepal. As you can tell, I’m still working on that!
While each year brings tremendous joy, there are challenges, and I find myself increasingly anxious about screwing this little girl up. All I want is a happy, emotionally healthy child who is kind, can make and sustain friends….is it too much to ask?
To intervene or not?
Now aged seven, Antara is still continuing to learn how to interact in social situations, especially those with other girls. Girls are hanging out more in groups and attempting to find their place in the gaggle. She comes home in tears stating that "so and so" wasn’t nice to her and wouldn’t include her in games at recess. I ask myself, why were they being mean to her? Is she not being nice to them? What happened? And then I wonder, do I say something to the teacher? I struggle with how to respond. Should I be the overbearing Mother Hen that I was to my younger siblings or just let things fall into place naturally?
I find that my personality couldn’t possibly let things happen naturally, so I end up emailing her teacher and asking if she’s aware of the situation. Most of the time it turns out the teacher does appreciate the heads up and often has a discussion about friendship and inclusion in the classroom, and this helps.
But still, Antara’s social interaction with other children consumes my mind. Is it normal for girls to be so mean to each other in second grade? Do other kids have more play dates than my daughter? Will she have a BFF?
Now I just hold my breath when I pick her up from school, am I’m so relieved when she runs into my arms and happily screams “Mommy” with her arms open wide. But my anxiety doesn’t just happen around her social interactions. It’s a constant debate in my mind, what’s the appropriate amount of intervention? Am I saying and doing the right thing?
And sometimes I ask myself…
Is it an adoption thing?
I often wonder if Antara is much more sensitive than most kids. She’s an only child, so I don’t have much to compare to. I ask other parents, but it’s difficult to determine just how sensitive my daughter is. While I’ve never felt as if Antara struggles with being adopted, at least not in the way you hear about – attachment disorder, separation anxiety, behavior issues, etc. -- I can’t help but ask myself, Is this an adoption thing? Or an “every kid thing?”
One mom - you all know her well; she writes a very popular adoption blog! - made me look at it a bit differently and told me, “Children who are adopted look at everything through an adoption lens, so you can’t ask yourself ‘Is it an adoption thing?’”
Antara seems so proud of both being adopted and of her Nepalese heritage. I always attempt to find the right balance of discussion about adoption and just leading our everyday lives.
My view has been to slowly tell her more of her adoption story as she gets older. She’s very aware that she spent her first year in an orphanage in Nepal and that a special woman gave birth to her but wasn’t able to take care of her for some unknown reason. I’ve struggled with using the term birth mother, which is commonly used throughout the adoption community. I always felt like it would confuse her, as I am her mother. I know that I’ll have to begin using the term at some point!
So what I realize now is that being adopted is part of her soul; her being – how she sees herself and how she views everything. It may not be on her mind every day, but she does view life through the special adoption lens.
To watch or not to watch?
It’s this adoption lens that makes me nervous about taking Antara to the movies. She’s already sensitive and claims that most movie previews look scary or sad. So, we are very cautious about the films we choose. I check out Common Sense Media, ask other parents, and discuss films with her before seeing them. She watches previews and is quick to say if she doesn’t want to see the movie, so I let her decide. But how do you avoid Disney’s age-old formula of children being orphaned, then struggling to survive and eventually finding happiness? Am I suppose to tell her she can’t go to any movies, or do I have to ask every parent having a birthday party for their kid what film is being shown?
Disney’s (and other major movie production companies) films about orphans date back as far as Snow White and Cinderella but continue now with blockbuster hits like Frozen, Big Hero Six, Kung Foo Panda and Annie. In the recently released Stork animated movie, I absolutely cringed when they called the main adorable character Orphaned Tulip and kept it up until she said “Tulip is just fine; Orphan hurts my heart!”
It was my heart that hurt, and I couldn’t help but wonder if Antara was internalizing this or was she oblivious and just busy looking at the silly bird talking to the girl trying to fly. During films, I often hold my breath and watch her throughout the movie to make sure she’s okay.
These are just a few of the issues my family, like others, are dealing with day to day. And then she hits me with the other toughies from time to time like, “Mom, are you going to get married?” (I am a single mother). My response: “Well, I hope to one day” and "Are you going to have a baby?" My response: “Ah, no”.
Despite these issues we face, Antara is generally a really happy kid who loves theater, swim team, gymnastics and soccer. It's her mother I'm worried about!
Candice Waltier is a single mom to Antara and their Cockapoo, Otto. Candice is a principal at Communication Strategies Group (www.communication-strategies.com), a firm she started thirteen years ago. She tries to stay active in the Nepali adoption community and advocate for adoption through the Nepal Adoptive Families Association. She has spoken on international adoption and has appeared on NPR and The Talk. She loves bike riding and sailing on Lake Michigan during Chicago's short summers and hopes her daughter will join her on those rides in the near future!
Are you looking for some awesome children's chapter books? The BRAND NEW second book in the Jazzy's Quest chapter book series for adoptees is HERE!!! Be sure to get your copy of Jazzy's Quest: What Matters Most, the sequel to Jazzy's Quest: Adopted and Amazing!
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