10 August 2007

Cleaning House

It seems now that we have kids the cycle of house cleaning and cleaning closets is perpetual. Once we've completed a cycle, we're back at the beginning and starting over.

Yesterday, I went through the kids' clothing with them in preparation for the new school year. I know it's a bit premature, but we're at Grandma's next week, then at camp, and only home for 5 days before we have to take off on the long weekend for a wedding and then it's already back to school time.

The kids have received heaps of gifted clothing, they each came with a small box of clothing and we've bought them a few items along the way. I had to toss a bag of clothes that they've managed to demolish through the course of play and have another bag of clothes to pass on to their cousins.

The only thing after yesterday's fashion show that the kids really need is underwear and socks. They've grown a bit and are about to go up a size, so we're reluctant to drop a huge chunk of change on new clothing.

But yesterday, I did a bad adoptive parent thing. I took this opportunity of cleaning house to encourage the kids to pitch some of the clothing that they came to us with. There have been a few items that the kids initially wore with regularity, that has now petered off, and I used the "Mommy veto" to kick those clothes to the can. These are the items of clothing that have made us cringe and wince every time they are adorned.

The brown jogging pants, bleach stained, that Bella likes to wear around the house and in public. Bubaloo's yellow shirt with a flaming skull that now has brown, grey and black dirt sleves. Bella's horrendous bad-polyester pucci-like shirt, and her striped cable knit shirts, some old funky (but not in a cool way) sweaters and faded purple cotton shirts.

Clothes are one of the few possessions our kids have ever had. They provide a link to memories of the past. Clothes are the one thing that connects them to certain people and evokes memories of the life they had before us.

One of the things they ingrain in adoptive parents is not to throw out all of the clothes from the kids' previous life the moment they move into the new home. The clothes are familiar, hold familiar smells and can provide a small source of comfort.

It's hard as an adoptive parent to have two kids walk in the front door with only a single small box of clothes, many of which were long past their expiration date. Bella's size 7 bathing suit, sun-bleached and stretched out to fit her now size 12 body. Bubaloo's pants that always looked like he was preparing for a flood. Many of their clothes were mismatched, threadbare and stained.

I don't think their foster parents realized the dismal extent of the kids clothing situation until they packed for them to leave. The day before they moved Bubaloo found three new outfits in his drawer. Clothing that came to us with the tags still on.

Shamefully, I admit that I looked upon their possessions with disdain. I looked at them as reminder of a time where the kids had very little and what little they did have was of poor quality. The way they dressed put out a huge sign that I felt screamed to strangers, "no one cares for me."

Clothing for me, as an adoptive parent, was a representation of their past and the hard lives they had led. It took quite a bit of effort and the knowledge that I was putting their best interests first not to toss it all and have them start anew. Just like they were starting anew with us. But, we've always held a respect for their past so the clothing has stayed.

Slowly, as these clothes were outgrown or grew holes, I gently let the kids know that I had to throw them out.

We set up a a separate stash of "keepables" for the kids which we'll save for them. These are items that they've outgrown but cannot bear to part with.

Yesterday, the kids were a little bit more ready to part with their past. It also helped that they've developed new clothing favourites over the past six months and that it was becoming increasingly difficult to shut their drawers.

While I may have slightly overstepped my bounds, and used copious amounts of body language to show my distaste for certain pieces to encourage them to make a decision that would please me, I think we're all happy with the results today.

There are a few item left that I put expiry dates on. And in six months from now, I think we'll have a cleaner house. At which time I'll get to move on to helping the kids expunge some of the less desirable gifted clothing.

09 August 2007

Direction North

We visited the in-laws over the holiday weekend. Nine hours to drive there and nine hours to drive back. Gus, our dog, was the least cranky and best behaved of us all.

We went fishing, played croquet, saw the sights of my Wife's childhood, admired Nana's garden, feasted on heaps of food, explored Papa's junk yard, rode on an ATV with Pepere, and fed squirrels and chipmunks from our hands.

We still haven't managed to get the timing right for these visits. This time, we took two full days for travel and had a three day visit. I think we were all ready for us to head home after the second day of visiting.

The grandparent's don't know how to interact with the kids. They feel they should love them, have some bond with them. But they don't yet. That's laced with guilt. We all needed to be reminded that this was only the second time meeting Nana and Papa.

The kids are overwhelmed at discovering this whole new big family that has a history that pre-dates them. They only met four new people this weekend - an aunt, a cousin, Memere and Pepere. They both were overwhelmed and said it was too much.

Bella is phony and fake. Just as we thought we were discovering a realness in her, an essence of whomever she is, it quickly becomes shielded in a sticky, sweet fake. She crawls into strangers laps, albeit they are now relatives, for cuddles and professes her love. Tears stream down her face when we leave because she's going to miss Memere, Pepere, Nana and Papa, so much.

None of this emotion feels real. It often alienates and estranges her more from the ones she professes to love.

Worry creases the brow of all the adults in the room. We all see the danger in her actions especially in the looming teenage years. Bad boyfriends. Unhealthy relationships. Easy sex. Pregnancy possibilities. Yet, none of us know what interventions we can take to help.

Building self-confidence and self-esteem takes time. And, with our now 12-year-old daughter time is something we are lacking.