It was Linden's 8th birthday last week, which has resulted in all sort of irrational jealousy from Oak ("It's not fair!") and an unusual level of angst from the birthday girl herself. One of the writing stations in her classroom is making a card. She brought home one that said "Mom, Today has bin the wrst day mom. Love, Linden." Even sadder were the copious illustrations: frowny faces being rained on and then crossed out in bright orange crayon. She told me that she'd been upset and withdrawn during recess, and when friends tried to find out what was wrong, she had snapped at them to go away and leave her alone.
She cheered up in the evening (presents! cake!) but continued to fret a little about how grumpy she'd been with her friends. Despite all the reading I've done about kids in her situation, the penny didn't drop for me until four days after her birthday, last night.
She was sitting in the little rocking chair that has found a home in our kitchen, and I was unloading the dishwasher. "Mom, I want to go back to Baltica," she said. "I really miss the food there."
"What kinds of food do you miss?" I asked, curious.
"All of it. It was really good. The string cheese. The hamburgers." Hamburgers? Huh. I think the orphanage took the group to McDonalds once.
"Would you like to go back and live in the orphanage, or to go back with our family?" I asked, as neutrally as possible.
"With the family." Suddenly, she was in tears. "I want us all to go there and stay there. It's my home."
I stopped putting dishes away and knelt in front of her. I told her that I knew she misses her home, that it makes sense. I talked about how that's part of my life too, to always long for the people and places that are far away. (I was thinking that it's time to read Allen Say's Grandfather's Journey.) I realized I was talking too much, and asked her to tell me more about what she wanted to do.
It seemed to help, explaining that she wanted to go see her friends in the orphanage, to meet her older sister that she never even knew existed until we got her foster family's contact information, that she wanted us to go live there for a few years, then come back here to our house.
I wanted to support her feelings, but I also didn't want to create false expectations. I explained how expensive international travel is, and that it wouldn't work for us to just leave our house for a few years. I assured her that we, too, want to return to her birth country, and that when we do so, it will be for a month or more, probably in the summer. I started spinning wild ideas in my own head about applying for another international teaching program, but I didn't share those thoughts, since I could tell she'd launch onto them as a plan.
She teared up again. "Then you can take all my allowance and start saving for plane tickets. And I'm going to pick out all the toys I don't need and have a garage sale."
"Oh, honey. You really want to go." Miserable but fervent nodding. That's when it all came together. "Do you think having your birthday made you start thinking about your past?" Even more fervent nodding. "Is that why you were upset at school, do you think?"
"Yeah, and I just told everyone to leave me alone. I even told the TEACHER that."
"It must have been so confusing to be excited about your birthday and also so sad. And that would be really hard to explain to other people, huh."
I've been messing up a lot the past week. Whenever I do, I feel like I'm undoing all the good I've done, that I'm breaking trust and security in ways that make healing harder and harder. But her face, when I helped her start to put her confusion into words, when I didn't argue with her, when I told her that these kinds of feelings are completely normal, when I took her seriously...it is one of the rare times when I feel like I did something right enough to help balance out my mistakes.