Mia Mia Mia

 March 22, 2012

I’m not much of a writer to begin with and the combination of jet lag(which is seriously kicking my butt this trip) and the overwhelming-ness (that’s a word right?) of the adoption experience makes telling our story in real time so difficult.  But I realized I haven’t told you much about the little girl who brought us here and I need to do that (while my first impressions are still fresh in my mind)

Mia is now 3 years and 10 months old.  You would never guess it.

She is about the size of an American 2 year old fitting in size 24 mos clothes (and they are often hanging on her teeny frame.  Even for Chinese girls she is small but I am not surprised as delayed growth is consistent with her medical diagnosis.

And about that diagnosis…we are feeling very much encouraged.  I know we will be visiting with many specialists over the coming weeks who will offer their own opinion but to our eyes she is amazingly healthy. Her small motor control is off the charts and I'm pretty sure she could pick a lock with her nimble little fingers. In terms of large motor,  she does do some toe walking on her right foot but other than that she is remarkably coordinated. So far I have observed her; walking, running (more of a fast gallop), jumping with two feet and she can climb stairs one at a time.  You can feel that her right leg is tighter and has less flexibility and she definitely has a bit of a balance issue that becomes more pronounced when she steps on uneven surfaces but it is minor.  In fact overall her physical differences are so minor that other people have to ask what her sn is?

Language acquisition was one of my biggest fears for Mia.  EVERY specialist we met with said she would likely not speak.  WRONG!  She is a chatterbox.  Now her speech is IMHO developmentally delayed.  She seems to be speaking in 2-3 word sentences, which is behind where she should be given her age.  However it seems about right for a child living in institutional care where she had 3 years of Cantonese, then moved and heard Mandarin for the next 7 months..  She clearly understands everything our guide tells her and is able to communicate effectively with her.  She has also ALREADY picked up some English.  As of 4 DAYS in our care she says (and signs); all done, hello, bye bye, pee pee (important one), thank you.  Plus she repeats everything.

I know there are still many hurdles we need to get through…most of all we need to KNOW the cyst on her brain in NOT GROWING, but my mama’s intuition says she is going to be OK-even better than OK!

And so that leaves us with what I always tell people are the REAL special needs for adopted children; the effects of institutional care.  And there are many.

Language of course is one delay but one I feel we will fairly easily overcome with time.  The others are what I will lump together to call learned orphanage behaviors.  Let me say before I go any further Mia is a sweet, sweet child-a baby really but one who has had to fight to protect herself her whole life. So….she hoards and hides and clutches and protects with all her might everything she is given (food, toys, a shoe). If I try to take something, even if just help her with it,  she reacts instinctively to protect it. And that has resulted in her hitting, biting, scratching and pinching me.  I don’t get mad.  It just breaks my heart that this little thing has had to fight her whole life for the things she should have had all along.

We correct and redirect gently, carefully and, for now we allow (respect) some of the behavior like the hoarding if it seems to give her a bit of comfort during these scary first few days.  Last night she fell asleep clutching a zip lock bag full of cookies.  She wasn’t hungry she just couldn’t relax without having them in her hands.  Sigh.

The other thing I’ve observed is an immature style of play.  At her age we should be able to play simple games.  Macy who was the same age but in foster care (Praise Jesus for good foster parents) played rock paper scissors with us for hours on the long car rides.  Mia is not there yet.  Instead we play simple games like patty cake with me holding her hands.  She is at the play level of a 18-24 month old; repetitive throw the ball and chase after it, drop something on the floor and mommy picks it up, peek a boo, where’s Mia? .  She’s missed all of that intimate play we take for granted with the children we parent as infants.

And it shows in her desperate, constant, seeking of attention and love. This is the worst of everything for me as a mother to see.  Does it seem from the pictures that she is a smiley charming child?  She is.  But it is too much so.  It’s an act, a survival technique learned from living in institutional care where being a favorite might mean getting an extra piece of food or a bit of attention.  Mia has learned to flash that sweet smile as a way to protect and provide for herself.  The result is an indiscriminate “bond” with anyone and everyone she meets.

She will say hello and hug and kiss everyone and she calls them all (especially every other child she meets) “brother” and “sister” .  She mugs for the camera in an trained animal fashion.  (Her days at Shepherds Field taught her that particular behavior and it has me really rethinking how we need to conduct ourselves when we go on mission trips-more on that another time).

We are well versed in attachment parenting techniques and they are already in full play. For her own safety we need to help her to understand boundaries and that starts with identifying me as her primary caregiver.  Anyone who has done this knows it is exhausting but the results are so rewarding.  The transformation I know will come one day for Mia is why I advocate for adoption so strongly. Institutional care ruins these children...adoption heals them.

Beyond the orphanage behaviors and medical stuff Mia is a sweet, funny and spunky little girl. Her raspy voice and easy giggle melts you at the knees.  She is affectionate and likes to snuggle and she has the silliest grin you can imagine..  Which is all meant to say that we are already, deeply and forever more in love.


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