*taken from Ellis Paul's song: Words
i am at work yesterday, pounding out a 12.5 hour shift, when my cell rings in my pocket around 4:30. imagine my angst when i recognized the number: E's after school facility. calling to inform me- that though all the kids in her class know they must ask permission to use the scissors- apparently my daughter got hold of them and began pruning off pieces of her hair (thankfully, the damage was very minimal). and while i realize this can be typical "kid" behavior, and i've actually wondered when it would happen, it isn't really typical "E" behavior. she's smart as hell and frankly, she knows better. not to mention that she really loves her hair :O) how she responded (tears, inability to verbalize) once the teacher stopped her is more an indication of the problem than actually slicing away in the vicinity of her eyes to give her bangs a new flare. and just as i suspected, this wasn't her only issue on tuesday. my phone rang again, 2 hours later (this time the call from Baba) informing me that she had her first time out at public school and that she was hysterically laughing and putting sand down her pants, wood chips in her hair and shirt- when he arrived for pick up at the end of the day. (??). now the alarm bells are going off.
and lo and behold, Baba tells me that Ms.S, her regular (and much favored) teacher was not in school today (where she had her first time out). ding!ding!ding! as soon as E's routine in any way is altered, especially without lots of preparation (as in, if we had known as well that the teacher in training would be running her class yesterday), i am certain a time out for "not following direction" would never have been necessary. because when E gets scared, and she doesn't have the security of a person she is attached to within reach, she has tremendous difficulty focusing (and this girl has an attention span that lasts hours) and becomes quiet, unresponsive and a bit "scattered" or almost hyper (sign of her anxiety). more often, and this came after the scissoring incident, she withdraws and internalizes what she is feeling and shuts down, usually in a puddle of tears. but in neither situation has she ever mastered verbalizing what is going on inside of her. and while i expect her to endure consequences for her misbehavior, i also realize that in this case, she no doubt felt she was being punished for how she felt rather than what she was doing (not listening/following direction).
so. i made a call to her teacher Ms. S. and she promptly returned my call, shocked that E was capable of having anything other than a fantastic day (because yes, we went from consistent "great day!"s to "time out" after a year, without an "okay" or "bad" day in between, without any forewarning). we talked at length about her specific and unique set of circumstances: new culture, new language, adoption, prior life in China, and the particular challenges E faces in light of those facts. we agreed that the change in teacher was the trigger (without a doubt) and that we both needed to be proactive in teaching her to express her feelings.
apparently, Ms. S. has been using flash cards in school to help her. And Ms. S. is a stellar educator- she let me know she'd taken the liberty to research the adoption of Chinese daughters and what their emotional/mental challenges can entail after being thrust into a new life, far from their origins. yes, on her own, without any prompting from me, because in her words: "E is a girl that has wiggled her way into my heart, and I want both of us to do everything we can to empower her to face these challenges. I know she will thrive and ultimately be okay, K, but I think her greatest challenge is this- how she copes with change and how she internalizes her feelings- and it will never be about her physical abilities".
i asked if she could be her teacher until she graduated high school :) of course, that would never be good for E, but i'm thinking it'd be great for mom. i can only hope we are as lucky year after year, engaged with teachers that recognize her unique background and who are so willing to guide my daughter to her highest potential.
i came home last night and we didn't talk about her day. she'd shed enough tears with baba when he reminded her that no matter what- scissors, misbehaving- we would always love her. i am certain she understood she had misbehaved, and no doubt felt badly about it herself. so mom and E snuggled up for a bedtime story with lots of cuddling before and after and in between, rather than rehashing the details of her first really bad day since coming to this new home.
this afternoon i will stay after class with E and Ms S to discuss the ways we can help my daughter. i'll teach her about time-ins, she can teach me about flash cards and hopefully give me tips on how to help E verbalize her emotions when she goes to that place where she can't find the words.
and all the while, as she searches for her own phrasing, and stumbles- finding it impossible to speak, we'll just keep holding her and loving her through... until she can. validating that it's okay to feel whatever it is she feels. that we will always love her. and that we'll sit with her in that silence until the words come. and if they don't, we move on. we move forward. keeping her past close as our compass.