Welcoming Hard Feelings

I've been privileged over the last two years to be around a little girl who was adopted from a Rumanian orphanage. When she and her mom started coming to our parents and toddlers group, she was shy at first. But she soon got familiar with the environment and the people and would appear to be equally happy whether her mother was in the room or not.

Now it's possible to think of this as well-adjusted maturity. She recognizes that she's in a safe and loving environment; she understands that her mother loves her and will come back, and there's just nothing to be upset about. And of course, not having to deal with the trauma of separation is very convenient for all the adults involved--and quite flattering to the adult whom she happily chooses in her mom's absence. A quick glance at the situation, and it looks like one in which everybody is happy.

But what is wrong with this picture? I kept thinking about a year and a half in a Rumanian orphanage, not belonging to anybody, always having to make do with the meager human resources available, without hope for more. I found myself hoping that she would miss her mom, that she would notice that this wonderful person was available to her in a new and special way, that she would feel she had the right to be sad about not having her.

When it finally happened, it was like fresh rain on parched earth. She clung to her mom and cried desperately at the prospect of her leaving. Her mom held her and reassured her through both their tears that she loved her, that she would always come back. The picture was more complicated now, but much easier on the heart. They knew they had each other and it felt very very right.

Since that time, over a year ago, it's been a pleasure to watch her claim her family, master the language, grow more daring, make friends, be silly and laugh. Sometimes it still looks like she just needs time to be sad and cry. When I hold her in my arms then, thinking about that orphanage and all the hours of unshed tears, any amount of crying seemed appropriate.

But recently I started noticing that I was hoping for even more. I was struck by how extremely cooperative and "good" she was. Whenever anyone suggested an activity to her, she would instantly agree, whether it was something she enjoyed or not. Even when she was quietly crying in my lap, it felt like we both knew that I was the one in charge. Again, all this cooperation was very convenient, but something was missing from the picture.

Then came the morning when she couldn't ride bikes with her best friend, and she was mad. She wasn't content to cry quietly about it in my arms. She wanted to be with him and she struggled fiercely against the situation that kept them apart. Again, this new show of feelings was not convenient, and again, it was like water on dry earth. In her anger, I could feel her spirit, her will, her passion, and I knew that in her fight to overcome the lessons of the orphanage that she would win.

I feel very lucky to have had this experience. With the orphanage always in mind, I could rejoice without reservation in this little girl's mastery of inconvenient feelings. It was so clear. And it reminds me that, even when the source of the hurt is less clear, all of our children have a right to their anger and their grief.