Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Between Moments

Last night, I looked at the several thousand photos we took during our holiday in Vorarlberg. Aside from realizing that Adinah's picture of her grandmother and grandfather is better than mine, I saw something else. V. is laffing and goofing off in lots of the pictures, or in a blur of motion and mania, or even displaying her new game face--a real 'Back off, Jack' sort of affair. But in several of the fotos, as in a couple of her kindergarten pictures, V. also looks lost. Sad.

It's surprising. After a year with us, V. seems to be doing great. She's just 2 1/4 years old, climbing up and down stairs easily, going pee pee on the toilet when the mood strikes her, speaking short sentences in German and many words in English. She's even slept through the whole night in the last week! She seems virtually indestructible--healthy and strong. But she's also very sensitive. And scared of lots of things. Especially dogs, cats, cows and horses.

She seems so physically hardy that I think we forget she's also a little girl who got off to a rough start in this world.

To be reminded of this by looking at photographs of her is troubling because of my own family history. I remember a conversation with my mother, in which she remembered a similar incident. Years after all of us boys had left home, she was looking at some family fotos, and came across one of my younger brother sitting on her lap. She told me she looked at the little boy in that picture, and saw a troubled look in his eye. I pricked up my ears. Because in my adult years, my relationship with my younger brother
has been pretty difficult at times. So I worry a bit about this pseudo-predictive power of the camera to capture darker moments between moments. And I worry that somehow V. isn't getting enough from us.

Sometimes, when the four of us are walking down the street, and V. falls behind us, I wonder is she feels left out of our family, left behind the gang of three that was in our house before she got there. I try to think of how I can help her to feel safe with us, how I can let her know it's okay.

Thinking back over this, it sounds to me like I'm searching for a way to fix her so she'll be as healthy and perfect as we all want our children to be. Which is stupid. And presumes she's somehow broken, and not a beautiful complete person already. As if anyone's children (or any of us) are ever sunny and perfect.

Maybe what I'm really asking is, 'How can we can earn her trust?' But that question scares me. Because it sounds like more work than holding her hand and being nice to her as much as possible. I wonder if parents of biological children ever wonder how they can earn their children's trust. Do they just have the kid's trust from the beginning, and only ever have to worry about winning it back if they fuck up?

Or are we all always trying to earn and keep our children's trust?

I guess there's no easy answer, and earning her trust won't happen quickly in any case. But right now, I think these are the right questions to ask. Maybe that's a start.


Kat said...

Dear Pat:

We are all trying to earn and keep our children's trust, every day. And we do it in small ways (making sure to buy the orange juice without pulp, letting the kid pick the bedtime book)and big ones (making sure there's juice and food at all, and reading, and telling them we love them.)

At the same time, there are a lot of unpleasant things that we can't do anything about, that we can't keep them from feeling even if there's food and love and we're all warm and safe.

My kid has been lucky, in the sense that he's been surrounded with love from the get-go. But still, he's human, and that involves a certain amount of existential weirdness.

I came home from the studio one Sunday afternoon a couple of years ago to find the boy and the man watching some 50s sci-fi flick on TV. Seemed innocent enough, but I had to give hubster the eyeball, because I could tell that the Snail Monster was going to be waking us up at night for a while.

And sure enough, that was the first big "I'm SCARED" encounter. So we got up at night and soothed, and drew pictures of the monster and talked, etc. But it all made me realize that while I can soothe and love and talk and hug, I can't fix that big scary conundrum: there are snail monsters (real and imagined), and we're all alone, and all we've got is each other.

So that's a really long way of saying we're all trying to figure out the stuff you describe, every day. It's the 360 loop on the parenting thrill ride... We're an ocean away, but I can feel the love you've got for those girls, and although it's strange to say it this way, I'm proud of how sensitive you are to their natures... I think that really Seeing who our kids are as people is maybe the best thing we can do for them. (besides buying the right juice...)


pat said...

Thanks, Kat! I think I see what you're saying. I'm working on really Seeing V. and being with her as much as I can. Maybe I should set that as my goal: getting to know who she is. That's one of the best parts of having a friend anyway. Or a daughter.