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Saturday, October 24, 2015

A Mother's Pride

Any mother worth the title is proud of her children.

But when that child has overcome incredible obstacles, from being born into a family of alcoholics, to being adopted by a new family, to learning a new language and culture, to struggling with PTSD and ADHD and low self-esteem, to reach a milestone in her life, THAT is reason to be especially proud. And I am an especially proud mom.

My daughter was born in western Siberia to a family with a long history of alcoholism. Her birth father is also a drug addict. She was bounced from family member to family member. At best, her birth mother ignored her. At worst, she abused her. Finally the Russian government stepped in and removed her from the family, placing her in a series of orphanages.

She and I met when she was almost 11 years old. She was part of a group of Russian orphans visiting the U.S. for a 'culture camp,' but in reality the goal was to find adoptive families for the children. I volunteered to have a girl stay with me, since my undergraduate degree is in Russian language. That simple decision -- to host a Russian orphan for a couple of weeks -- changed both our lives forever.

We hit it off immediately, and she wasted no time in telling me that she wanted to stay in America and for me to be her mom. Of course, she was required by both Russian and American laws to return to Russia while I prepared the mounds of paperwork required by both governments. Neither of us had any idea how long this would take, so I told her I would come for her in Russia as soon as I got in permission. The wait took only three months, a much shorter amount of time than expected.

I traveled to Russia just before Christmas, appeared in a Russian courtroom, and the adoption was approved. Once I brought her home, things went well for a while. It was wonderful to watch her learn about so many new things, from our huge grocery stores to the many toys and hair accessories for sale. This honeymoon period came to a crashing halt, and she -- and I -- struggled for a long time. When I started this journey, I had little knowledge about reactive attachment disorder (RAD), but I soon became an expert in this and several other emotional disorders common among children from an orphanage background. A therapist once told me that if he ever had a child with RAD, he would want advice from me rather than a therapist, most of whom are clueless about RAD.

But with lots of treatment by people specially trained to treat these disorders, she began to change, and I began to better understand the workings of her 'trauma brain,' as one therapist called it. Although she often struggled, she continued to make changes in her behaviors. She graduated from high school, completing the final year with on-line and correspondence classes. This was a major accomplishment, but she persevered (with a lot of encouragement -- OK, nagging -- from mom.)

As a hands-on learner, sitting through hours of classes in college didn't seem like a good option fr her post-high school education. But as someone with a great deal of creativity and an outgoing personality, cosmetology school seemed like a good choice. She left the first cosmetology school when it became obvious it wasn't a good fit for her, but she really liked the second school. She graduated in late July and got a job working at a local salon while awaiting a date for her state board exam. She studied really hard and despite her test anxiety, she passed the written test with flying colors. She did even better on the practical exam. So now she has her license, a job she likes and what should be a rewarding career ahead of her.

So THIS is why I am such a proud mom. Yes, it seemed at times that she would never graduate, but we never gave up. I knew that once she sets her mind to something, there is no stopping her. And that was exactly what happened. She got extra hours for working as an unpaid extern at a local salon (which has hired her as a stylist). She studied hard for her written board exam and passed with a very good score.

So now this former orphan, who knew no English and had known little but hurt and rejection, has a loving mom, a wonderful, supportive boyfriend, a good job that she enjoys and is really good at, and a wonderful sense of accomplishment.

I think we both should be extremely proud, don't you?