08 November 2009

attachment-keeping it small

"Keep their world small."

This is the advice, the decree given to adoptive parents. But how do you do that? And for how long? I have another month until we're both in school. I'm so grateful for as long as I've had with her, but wish it were longer. I think I could easily spend a year easing her in to life. Or longer. But I am very thankful we've been able to have our own small world for as long as we do. It is precious beyond measure.

What does it really mean to keep their world small? I think it means different things to different families. First children have a much greater opportunity to experience this "smallness" than children do who are coming in to a family that has children--and all their activities and things. It must be hard to shrink a world for a child who is getting a new sibling, and likely needs the comfort of his usual activities.

Okay. About us:

I think the time spent in Russia, as crazy as it is running around from place to place collecting pieces of stamped paper, is an easy place to build that "smallness". It was just Lexi and I. We had few responsibilities and obligations. We had few clothing choices. We had two dvd's. We had three books. We had her bear, her doll, (really wish I hadn't brought the doll), a coloring book, stacking cups, and some wooden animal beads that I'd brought on an earlier visit.

I think that it's as important to limit the number of things as it is to limit the number of people and places. As tired as I was of those clothes and those things, we didn't pitch them when we came home. We slept in those same pajamas. The same toys, books, and dvd's that we watched for two weeks on the road we all we played with and watched for about the first week home. I had taken all the toys out of her room. They're still gone, but some books have migrated there. In the living room, where her toys are, they are mostly out of sight.

Slowly, over the last month, we've explored most of the toy bins. She knows what is in them. But, generally, she doesn't need an abundance of things from which to choose. She has her favorite activities (reading books, playing with her baby, playing shopping, painting, doing puzzles) and plays them over and over. I will introduce a new game or toy or will add an accessory to her "plays" (like the bath tub or dishes for her doll), but it is often much later that she wants to do it again. (Or, she wants it every. single. day.)

We really do stick to only-one-toy most of the time. Most of the time. And, sometimes a play gets very involved and needs many accessories. No problem! But when we're done with that play, they get picked up. Every other night before bed with do a quick pick-up of the flat, one room at a time. She actually enjoys this, because she enjoys helping, and it keeps things away. If we did it every night, neither one of us would enjoy it.

In Moscow, were in an apartment roughly the size of our own. Being in an apartment was wonderful. It meant that we didn't have to go out for meals. We could go out if we needed to, but we didn't have to. We had different spaces for sleep and play.

While many families have needed to gate off sections of their house, we didn't. Our flat is not huge. She knows that we play in either her room (very rare, but I'd love for it to happen more) or the living room. We don't play in Mama's room, the kitchen or the bathroom. And that's our entire flat.

Lexi is very good at respecting boundaries, which is not always the case with pi kids. Granted, I'd made my house much like my classroom--nearly everything accessible is fair game. But, not everything. I live here, too. My desk and the bookshelves are off-limits. But, all I had to do was tell her was the desk was only for Mama. She just doesn't touch it or anything on it. I didn't even mention the bookshelves. Perhaps having her own, and the "dullness" of the books on mine, makes it less tempting.

All this is old news to most adoptive and pre-adoptive parents. Limit the people you come in contact with and allow no one else to provide (food, gifts, affection, etc.) for your child. Keep the physical space limited and sparse. Stay home as much as is humanly possible. Eat the same things, wear the same things, do same things. All of this prevents over-stimulation. It doesn't take much to rock the world of these little people.

Keeping things small keeps things safe. It's predictable. It helps a child to relax and let down their guard. Hypervigilent children in particular, those that are constantly on the lookout for what danger may possibly occur and planning how to handle it, benefit from this. And, I think all children coming out of an orphanage have some hypervigilence. They have to. It's self-preservation. Until they know that you'll keep them safe, they have to be prepared to keep themselves safe.

One thing I did instinctively as a teacher of esl students, that I haven't heard discussed elsewhere, is keep her vocabulary small. I used the exact same words over and over to describe an action. (i.e. always, "Please take this to the trash can." and not the occasional "Please throw this away." Always saying "Please take this to xxx" means that she only has one new word in the sentence to figure out. She quickly learned the sink, the trash, your room, the table, the bathroom, Mama's room...) She can follow two- and three-step directions now, which is amazing.

I didn't use synonyms. (Things were little, not small.) I didn't use contractions. As her vocabulary grows, I am incorporating these. I am still avoiding homophones as much as possible (ie, since we rock each night, there are stones and not rocks on the street).

Specific feedback is important! "Good job!" is great, but general. I realized, as I listened to Lexi play, that I often include the command after it. I must be saying, "Good job, chew and swallow!" "Good job, be careful!" "Good job, watch what you're doing!" I found myself today saying, "Good job, be careful. You were very careful while you were cutting." I think that's the transition from survival English, just being able to communicate, to speaking English. (Hmm...not really part of keeping her world small...but will leave it as I think it's interesting.)

Small world--few people, few places, few things, consistent vocabulary. Variety is not the spice of life. Or, if it is, pi kids need a very bland diet for a long time!

planning to do, in a sketchy sort of way, shorter posts on: routine and rituals, sleeping/co-sleeping, belonging together, a single mom copes, common pi issues (maybe)... any requests?


Zoya said...

No requests, but I find all your posts very interesting. Thank you for sharing your experiences and lessons learned.

Lindy D. said...

Very interesting, indeed. You are doing a great job with little Lexi. Your parenting style is so well-thought-out; it must be exhausting, but rewarding.

I have wondered how you will prepare her for the transition from "small" to "school." Does she miss spending time with other children?

kate said...

Lindy, we've been visiting school while it's empty to play on the playground and in her classroom. I've asked her teacher to e-mail us photos of her, the ta and the children.

We'll probably go in the afternoon before we return just to see school WITH people.

And, I have to go do some training for the faculty and staff about how to best teach her. She'll be with me then. I'm still not sure how that will work...although a good friend of mine whom Lexi knows teaches at school with me. I think she'll figure in there somehow.

We are hoping to have a child or two from her class over to play before school.

We went to church last week, and will continue going, just to be in a structured group setting.

She doesn't seem to miss other children at all--and is very hesitant around them. I was told that the other children in the orphanage were very unkind to her. She was the last one to join the group and was a bit of an outcast according to one caretaker. So, I think she's just feeling safe right now.

I am eager to have her around other children--and to have her *still* feel safe! Our school is known for its "nice" student body. I'm so glad!

Stefanie and Bill said...

I enjoyed reading your post! I appreciate you simple but seemingly effective suggestions! Congratulations in your Daughter and You finding one another!

Maggie said...

I nodded my head through this whole post. The specific compliments are still necessary even though Slugger has lived with me for over two years. He doesn't know how to replicate being "a great kid." But he knows how to replicate doing "a great job on the dishes" or whatever. Compliments without specifics make him worry that he won't live up to himself the next day.

Barb said...

I always love what you write and think you are doing a fantastic job!! Looking forward to reading more, and getting your insights on more topics!

Tina in CT said...

It's very obvious that you did a lot of research during your waiting years and are doing a wonderful job with Lexi.

I don't understand your comment about the doll. Is it because you are keeping things limited during this time?

espe said...

Hey GK in regards to any "requests" I say...ALL OF THE ABOVE PLEASE!

Your insights are both interesting and heartwarming!

your buddy

yjwebers said...

My question was about school and other kids (same as Lindy) and you answered it. Thanks!! You're doing an awesome job. You were so prepared, of course.

Unknown said...

THanks for this. In my brain, I know we'll have to do all of this - but in my heart, I will want to spoil Anya and take here everywhere and see everything right when we get home. I think the hardest thing will be to explain to other people NOT to bring gifts, and NOT to show a lot of affection toward her...I just know they won't understand...this is NOT about them - it's about Anya (know what I mean?)

The Accidental Mommy said...

I never thought about keeping language simple too- good one! I think for us, Genea had learned English already. But certainly she still gets confused when something is not literal, which is a lot. Of course I cant think of a single example right now.
I do think it will really help her to meet a kid in her class before she goes to school. Are you friends with another mom? Maybe she and a friend could both wear pink shirts the first day or something. Knowing you, you already have 95 great ideas to help keep her on track for your first major seperation. Maybe you could blog those.

Annie said...

Sergei arrived as well-balanced, happly, easy to get along with, and affectionate as any person could be. He'd come on a hosting visit - so you can imagine the stress of that! And before he got to OUR house, he'd been at four other homes - all the time knowing that it was a sort-of try-out. So, if he could handle that he could handle anything! So, honestly, reading all the stuff about attachment didn't resonate. We'd both fallen in love at first sight.

One thing that DID make sense to me was to "keep it small" just because of the sharp contrast between what he'd experienced and what there was to offer, so to speak. Other families were running he poor kids from amusement park, to zoo, to circus, to big reunion picnics etc. Crazy! Sergei was enchanted with household appliances! The freedom to look through the "junk drawer" was pure delight for him. I will never in my life forget the day he discovered the copy machine at my office - it was an enchanting experience of wonder and awe! Every aspect of our real life is magical - and I think seeing everything anew through his appreciative eyes was one of the most wonderful experiences of my life.

Instinctively, though, I think, I kept him with me (or with me and Craig/?Craig and Sergei).... it isn't unlike dating, we got to know each other. We were falling in love.

Your perception that it is very different with other children at home is so accurate! And when you come home from two weeks away - they need you more than ever! We took Sergei to get Zhen, so that was OK....still very intimate. When Nastya came, though, it was harder. She needed to stick to mommy like glue for about 4-5 months. Right when S and Z needed private mommy-time more than ever. I don't know that I managed it all that well - mainly because Anastasia is the most fragile of all my kids (save Maxim). To this day Sergei dislikes her. The fact that I have to have somewhat different rules and expectations for her, just exacerbates that, sadly.

School was the thing that after a few weeks even undid Sergei. It was SO overwhelming.... To this day I think that Ilya's less-than-perfect adaptation to our family and life, is due to the fact that he arrived here on Sept. 1. School loomed; he needed the same quiet time at home the other kids got. No one offered parental leave and I did't see how they could "manage without me" at the beginning of a school year. I should have insisted. I will forever be sorry I didn't DEMAND it.

Everything you write is WONDERFUL!

Rob MacDonald said...

Hi Kate,

I've written a few times before, as I too am located in St Petersburg and write a blog. Your attachment entry is thoughtful and spot on... I'm happy that you were able to complete the adoption of Lexi!

I hope it is OK that I added your blog to my Recommended Blogs list. Would you consider adding mine to such a list, or starting one?

All good wishes,

Rob MacDonald... Loquacious

Ellyn said...

Anything I could say would be redundant. Keep it coming.

McMary said...

I enjoy all your posts and would love to read your thoughts on all the topics you mentioned.

I really like your advice about keeping it small and yet I know that I will struggle with that because of my big family and many friends (I have lived and worked it the same place for over 25 years) so I will have to really work on that. I may use part of your post (maintianing your anonymity) as a good way to explain to people.
thanks for all your good insight Kate--you are a great Mom.