Communicating Under Water: When Your Daughter Is a Stranger

Communicating Under Water: When Your Daughter Is a Stranger

I knew this going into older-child adoption, but it can be so strange, confusing, and tiring to treat a big kid capable of some big kid things more like a little kid, and adjust expectations in a downward direction. It can also be very freeing. Fikir isn't ready for "school." She needs to have fun learning her shapes, colors, letters, how to find things that are alike and similar, following directions, basic sequencing, logic and of course, above all, learning English. We are working on what are by definition pre-school skills.

As a home schooling family, I had visions of schooling my same-age girls together, and it has been humbling to realize that what Samantha (my home grown daughter who is Fikir's artificial twin) needs in school is so different and that I can do almost zero school for them the same way. Samantha is learning to read novels on her own and respond to writing prompts. Fikir is learning what sounds the letters make and how to hold a pencil properly and how to tell if things are alike or different. She doesn't remember day to day what the word "drawer" means yet. Fikir deserves to learn those pre-school things. She is doing great at those things. They cannot be skipped nor rushed.

Another thing that takes a huge amount of time and effort is is learning words for things in English that she never knew the word for in Amharic. Like "ladder." A picture of a ladder stirs up no word for her in Amharic; she never needed one, maybe never saw one. During some really important months, around ages of four and five, when kids in most of our families are introduced to hundreds of new words, places, things and ideas in a given month, she was tucked away in the walls of a care center, where little changed, she wasn't read to, and there was little introduction to new words, ideas, places, or vocabulary. Not the least of all factors affecting this whole murky water communication thing she was a little tiny girl who lost her parents. Her brain probably did a darn fine job protecting itself by starting to shut things out. New things = scary.

She is making up for lost time. She is cheerfully and doggedly learning about the world and how it works. I just hope that with her words and with her neurons connecting so too our communication will improve. I hope that someday she will have enough words and the desire to talk about herself.

I want to know her feelings, who she is, how she thinks and especially what she remembers. Because right now, she is an utter mystery to me. It feels so strange to have a child, my daughter be so unknown and unknowable. I live with a stranger. I know, I know. It takes time. Patience and time. I guess for now I will sit down here with her in the water, playing "tea party," smiling as much as possible through the distortion, the light prisms and the bubbles. But I can't wait to get out of the water onto dry land, and really hear her and have her really hear me. I don't know when it is coming, but I suspect it will feel like breathing air.


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