At first, it was the best vacation ever. Sure, there were long flights and jet lag and unfamiliar food, but she had her mom and her grandma all to herself, which is something Rose couldn’t remember experiencing in a house with four older brothers and sisters. They rode on rickshaws and buses and subways and fast trains, and Rose basked in the attention everyone gave her. And then, just as she was getting used to this strange new place, filled with new sounds and smells and people who looked nothing like the people she saw back home every day, it happened. Rose, her mom, and her grandma took a van to an office building, and suddenly, she had a baby brother. Rose’s whole world turned upside down.
There’s not much you can do to prepare a not quite two-year-old to have a younger sibling. Even though Rose had looked at Eli’s face for months and already called him by name, she had no idea what was in store for her. I knew this already. I have four older kids, and they’re all approximately two years apart. And each time, the older brother or sister was thrown for a loop. In those cases, the baby that arrived was a newborn. Newborns dominate Mom’s attention, it’s true, but they’re tiny and they sleep a lot. Eli was almost as big as his older sister, could smile and play peek-a-boo, and Rose’s mom and grandma seemed really taken with the little guy.
Exactly a year earlier, we had stood in the same Civil Affairs Office in Nanjing in expectant anticipation of eleven-month-old Rose. She came to us quiet and subdued, but within hours seemed delighted that these strange pale people wanted to cuddle her, feed her and love her. Her adjustment had been almost effortless. She wanted to be at the center of someone’s life, and here were six people who all held that place in their hearts for her. But Eli was seventeen months, and from all the pictures we had of him, it looked like he was the life of the party at his room in the orphanage. Surely his adjustment would be more difficult.
He came to us screaming. I expected that. Rose patted him and told him it would be okay. But when we got back in the van and Eli came with us, a switched flipped in Rose. She pinched, screamed, kicked, screamed, hit, and screamed her way through the next ten days in China. She started yelling at the breakfast buffet every morning, and didn’t stop until she fell asleep, exhausted, at night. I had spent almost a year wondering how I was going to help Eli adjust to life with our family, but hadn’t expected that Rose would be the one who would have the more difficult adjustment.
I was never the kind of girl who dreamed about growing up and having twins. The whole idea of twins terrified me. But I also never expected to adopt from China, and when we opened our lives to adoption, a lot of our expectations changed.
At first, we thought we’d adopt a toddler girl, but the girl we were matched with, the girl I knew was ours, was just five months old. We decided to close the gap between our birth kids and Rose by adopting a preschool-age boy. But when we saw Eli’s picture, once again we knew this was the right child for our family, even though he was only ten months old at the time, and six months younger than Rose.
The last seven months have been some of the hardest in our family’s existence. I wish I could say that the screaming and the hitting stopped when we got back to America, but it didn’t. I still pull her off him several times a day, and she’s intimately familiar with the “time in” chair in the family room. Eli had several hand surgeries and treatment for clubfoot over the spring and summer, and when he was in casts, she took the
opportunity to establish firm dominance. When I’m not looking, she takes the stuff she wants to eat off his high chair try and gives him the stuff from hers that she doesn’t want. She always manages to get the favorite toys, the bigger cookie.
The last seven months have also been the most transformative time in our family life. We didn’t see the scars on Rose’s heart until Eli arrived, and I think we’ve come a long way at healing them. Sometimes, when I’m off in the playroom cleaning up the markers for the thousandth time, or sweeping the floor yet again, I’ll hear them talking to each other. She has taught him to sing his ABCs. When she says, “thank you” and “I love you, Mama,” he does too. When she wakes up in the morning, the first place she heads is to “Ly’s room.” “Ly sleeping?” she asks. And even if he is, she wants to wake him up. He can be her adversary, but he’s also her best friend, and more importantly, her brother.
Sometimes, when I think about how two years ago they were lying in cribs in their orphanage, it amazes me to see how far they’ve come, and how they’ve changed and completed our family.
In her first year home with our family, Rose learned to receive love. After spending eleven months lying in a crib, she was ready to be stimulated and to be the center of attention, and she flourished. But in the last seven months, she’s starting to see that being part of a family means you can’t always be the center of attention, and that giving love is as rewarding as receiving.