Today was really a monumental day in Aliya's life. She was asked several weeks ago on Ethiopia to speak the 8th grade geography class. She was very excited to do this, that is until this week when reality hit and she got scared. With help from her ELL teacher at school, she prepared a powerpoint and a script. We downloaded a video of Korah for the kids to see. I wasn't completely sure how she'd do or even if she could do it. This was a very big deal. She prepared for a 15 minute presentation which would be repeated 5 times to the 5 different geography classes!! Wow, that is HUGE, huh?
I went with her for her first 3 classes today for support.
She didn't need it:)
By the 3rd class, Aliya was speaking for the full class time-45 minutes!
She did amazing! I mean REALLY amazing! The kids listened attentively, asked great questions and tried berebere (Ethiopian spice-spicy!). They were respectful to her and appreciative. She was composed, animated and poised. She was confident and honest. She told the kids that when she came here, she was scared to start school. She told them in Ethiopia, it is easy to make a friend, but it is much harder here. She told them she used to cry at night because it was so hard for her at school and she wanted friends so badly.
She told them that even thought life in Ethiopia is hard, the people are happy and always have a smile on their faces.
She represented Ethiopia and its beautiful people well.
She represented our family well.
She represented herself well.
Today, Aliya made me so proud to be her mother. She showed me that it all has been worth it. She showed me that taking a chance and investing in people IS the right thing to do, NO MATTER HOW HARD IT IS! She showed me that whatever challenges we face are worth making the effort to overcome.
How would we have known this blessing if we hadn't adopted a teenager?
Blaine and I went yesterday to a counseling session at the Family Attachment Center. It was very eye opening. We told her about our family and about Aliya. I told her how I'd been struggling and stressed over certain persistent issues. She was a wise woman and intuitive. She asked questions and took notes. We sensed that she had a good idea who Aliya was.
She told me that even thought some of her behaviors are sprinkled with 'adoption behavior', basically we just had an adolescent on our hands! It was really eye opening for me to think of it this way. Blake, even though he made some very dumb choices in middle school and some of high school, was always respectful to us as parents. (If that makes any sense) Katie, quiet honestly has always been a respectful, obedient and never challenging child, even though the teen years.
So a 'normal adolescent' I wasn't used to!
Since she has always been with us less than a year, she hasn't had the benefit of growing up knowing the expectations of us as parents. I think if she had been with us since babyhood or toddlerhood, these things would be easier. But coming in when she did, she still has to learn these things.
I also was told that we as parents instruct our small children all the way up on how we want things done. Because of this, they MAY intuitively know us well enough to know what we are thinking and feeling without saying a word. Katie does this with me better than anyone else. So I guess I was expecting Aliya to do this, too. After all, if I have a sad or mad face wouldn't you know how I feel? Women...come on...you know what I mean!!
Well, with the cultural differences, Aliya does not pick up on these things and I was unrealistic to think she should be able to do this.
I need to use words...simple and direct. Imagine! I can't beat around the bush or expect her to read my mind. This will take work, indeed!
I've been schooled.
We were also told that, in the counselors experience, we have been blessed with the top 1% of older adopted kids in terms of behavior, etc. She said the fact that Aliya has decided in her mind that we are her family, she loves us and accepts us is the biggest advantage we have. Also, the fact that she improves after a correction from us, is a huge issue in our favor!
After all that, some advice on techniques, advice on picking our battles and a book recommendation on adopting teens (I didn't know such a book existed!), we have decided that we will not pursue any further counseling, as it is really not needed. The counselor told us she will be a different person at 20 or 25 than she is now at 15, just due to growing out of adolescence. Whew!!
A couple things that the counselor said to me really have stuck out in my mind. Aliya was a very independent young girl and had to be as responsible as an adult for a few years. I wondered why a child who had to be an adult wouldn't jump at the chance to be a child, knowing she had a family who would take care of her.
She told me that a child who has had to be independent like that has a hard time giving that up. "Being dependent is a scary place to be," she said.
LIGHTBULB! Of course. She holds on to her independence (even when it doesn't make sense) because if she gives it up completely and something happens to us and she is left alone again, she will be even farther behind. In her life, this has happened and been a reality so to let it all go...she just cannot do it...at least, not yet. Way too scary.
She MUST retain some control as her life has been very out of control for years. So we need to pick our battles and let her retain control in things that don't really matter (not life and death stuff, safety, etc.)
So today is a new, fresh start for me. A new perspective. A new appreciation.
I am a blessed Mom. A blessed mom of a future teacher. (my prediction!)