Exactly two years ago, I posted the following story on this blog.
"I hate everybody in this room!"
Earlier that morning, Wenxin and I packed his lunchbox for his first day at Colorado Kids Camp. We filled his water bottle and put on sunscreen. We talked about how Daddy and I would go to the meetings for our conference, and he'd go to camp. (Our other kids were at home with grandparents, but since Wenxin's only been home 10 months, we chose to bring him with us on this work trip to Colorado.) We planned to pick him up at 3 pm and then come home and swim together. So far so good.
But when we pulled up to the elementary school where the kids camp was held, the whole atmosphere changed. Things went downhill quickly.
Wenxin began to cling to my leg and whine. He didn't want to stay. He wanted to go with Mom and Dad.
First stop: the Health Check station where they weed out any kids who might be sick. Wenxin tried his darndest to fail the health check. Cough, sore throat, stomach ache? He had them all.
On to his class: Wenxin refused to take a seat. In fact he stood, stiff as a board, in the middle of the room and mumbled loudly, "I hate everybody in this room!"
The teacher greeted him. At my request, she brought the day's schedule over and explained about all the fun things they'd be doing. But Wenxin wanted no part of it.
I asked if I could move with him to the side of the room where we could just sit together and observe the class for a while. He gathered his sunscreen and water bottle from the desk. He took the name tag they'd prepared for him, emphatically throwing it to the floor.
By this time Mike had parked the car and come in to see what was taking so long. I walked over and talked with Mike for a moment and when we looked back, huge tears were rolling down Wenxin's face.
Our hearts hurt for him, but we were not surprised. Over the last 10 months, we've learned that certain situations trigger anxiety in Wenxin. A big one is places that look institutional. This includes doctor's offices, schools, churches, etc.
I talked with Wenxin and told him that all the kids at the camp had parents who would be picking them up at the end of the day, just like we'd be picking him up. No children would spend the night at the camp. I tried to ease his fears.
Context is everything. With no context, if you saw an eight-year-old boy refuse to take a seat, say that he hated everyone in the room, and purposefully throw his name tag to the floor, you would probably think that his parents should impose swift consequences for his disobedient and disrespectful behavior. What eight-year-old acts like that?
But what if you knew that only three years ago, this child had been removed from the only home he'd ever known and placed in an orphanage that housed 1000 kids? Would that make a difference? Could you see how getting in a line with a bunch of other kids and being dropped off at a place that looks an awful lot like an orphanage might push all his buttons, putting him into fight or flight mode? Could it be possible that even though this kid now has loving parents and life is good, this makes him even more afraid that he might somehow lose everything again, for a second time?
We did not punish Wenxin for his behavior because it was rooted in fear, not rebellion. Mike sat down with him at the edge of the room and I went out to talk with the kids camp director. At that point a couple of really good things happened.
First, Mike began to play with Wenxin. When I came back in the room they were quietly having a war, taking turns shooting each other with a bottle of sunscreen. The tears were gone, and Wenxin was smiling. The next think I knew, Wenxin was sporting Mike's sunglasses and conference name tag. As he laughed and played with his dad, he relaxed. Play is a key to Wenxin's heart.
Next, the camp director was quick on her feet and assigned a teacher to stick close to Wenxin for the whole day. She had that teacher come and get to know Wenxin while Mike and I were still there.
Finally, I felt we might be able to leave. So I asked Wenxin, "Would you like to wear Dad's sunglasses when we leave, or can he have them back now?" Wenxin chose to take his seat in class, hiding out behind Mike's sunglasses, and we were able to slip out the door. Wenxin had a great first day at Kids Camp, and since then, he's marched right in like a big boy each morning.
Fast forward two years. We're back in Colorado again. Attending the same conference. With the same kids camp. This morning was Wenxin's first day.
Even after two years, new situations are still stressful for Wenxin. As he walked into his new classroom this morning, he was extra quiet, answering all the staff's questions with a stress-filled, "I don't know." But he took his place quickly, and Mike was able to make a graceful exit. The first morning drop-off two years later wasn't a crisis, and by the end of the day, he was having a blast.
I call that progress.
Here are all the posts in this series so far:
Day 1: Drowning in Paperwork
Day 2: A History of Loss
Day 3: Tantrums
Day 4: Parenting with Connection
Day 5: Prayers for the First Days Home
Day 6: Others Share about the First Days
Day 7: The Best Advice
Day 8: How to Get the Help You Need
Day 9: Thing People Say to Adoptive Families
Day 10: More Things People Say
Day 11: Unexpected Challenges
Day 12: Unexpected Blessings
Day 13: Manipulation and Control
Day 14: Sharing Control
Day 15: Packing with Attachment in Mind
Day 16: Kids Camp Two Years Later
Day 17: Listening to Adult Adoptees, Part I
Day 18: Listening to Adult Adoptees, Part II
Day 19: Understanding Negative Behavior
Day 20: Does Race Matter?
Day 21: Bedtime, Spanking, & How We Parent
Day 22: So. Your Adopted Child Hoards Food
Day 23: A Movie I Recommend
Day 24: Bullying
Day 25: The Post I Wish I Didn't Have to Write
Day 26: Stitch Fix Just Keeps Getting Better
Day 27: Naming
Day 28: How to Help Your Church Help You
Day 29: A Dad's Eye View of Adoption
Day 30: Online Might Be Your Lifeline
Day 31: Look How Far We've Come