Friday, February 05, 2010

Happy birthday, Danielle!

I never post on my kids' actual birthdays but Danielle is now six! :)

Thus starts the downfall of me being able to keep track of ages...a week ago it was 7, 6, 5, and it's 7, 6, 6, and 4 and it gets worse as the year goes on. Once we hit September and Emily's birthday we'll be back to sequential. Ahhh...

Danielle's birthday was a little traumatic for her. It comes shortly after Christmas which was also a bit of a difficult time for her. Christmas was the first holiday she had celebrated since coming home that she also would have celebrated in Ukraine. We saw quite a bit of regression and a lot of behaviors coming back that had disappeared shortly after coming home from Ukraine. We had just started to get a good handle on those and then her birthday came, which she also would have celebrated in Ukraine.

She was very excited about her birthday and we got a big kick out of her opening her cards and presents. We kept things very small and she only got a few gifts (one from us and a few from grandparents) but she really loved them all so it was a good balance. I would love to think that things will settle down now but Valentine's Day is coming. Anything that involves parties and candy at school sets her off big time. They used to get LOTS of candy in the orphanage so that is a big trigger for her. She just hasn't quite been able to dissociate candy and the orphanage yet so when she gets candy it brings back a lot of the orphanage residual behaviors--lots of "mine" behaviors, grabbing, not being willing to share, etc. Thankfully we don't have any problems with tantrums or anything like that!

Danielle is slowly learning her letters and is working very hard at writing her name. She's finally starting to get the significance of letters and that they make words. She really wants to be able to read like her older brother so she "pretends" to read quite a bit. When she opened her first birthday card (upside down!) she "read" "Happy birthday to MEEEE!" and Mark and I couldn't help but laugh. She was positive that's what it said (she wasn't even close). :) :)


Diana said...

Happy Birthday, Danielle!

You are very wise and also spot on in recognizing that holidays and celebrations are big triggers for our hurt kids. You're also close in associating them with Ukrainian celebrations. Christmas, she probalby did celebrate in some small way at some point. My little one's orphanage used to do little parties and festivals and such. Birthdays, however, unless she was in a very unusual place, would not have been celebrated there. Most children's birthdays aren't celebrated, even outside the orphanage environment.

But, what these celebrations (particularly Christmas, birtdays, Valentines Day, Mother's Day, Father's Day, etc) do trigger is intense feelings of loss, grief, deprivation, and abandonment. These, and pretty much any other family related celebration are painful reminders of what they didn't get to celebrate until they were home with you. And, they are also painful reminders that they were once unloved and forgotten. They also very often stir up all the "why" questions (both conscious and sub-conscious) and feelings "Why did I have to leave Ukraine?" "Why didn't my birth mother want me?" "Why did I have to wait so long for a family?" etc.

You are VERY lucky your kids don't throw fits when they get candy. I have one who completely shuts down and retreats to his shell and another who rages. But even if it's just the more "mild" behaviors you see, it's all about the subconsious association that copious amounts of candy were used to "comfort" kids (aka shut them up) rather than the actual love and attention they craved.

For me, the thing that stinks the most about the candy trigger is it is a pretty clear reminder that there are still holes in my kids' emotional buckets. No matter how much I pour into them, they can't hold it - and the faster I pour, the more their buckets leak. In order to stop the insanity of the feeling, they revert to their old self-soothing "survival" behaviors.

Courtney said...

Actually, in a very unusual situation as compared to most orphans in Ukraine, our girls were VERY loved. They received lots of hugs and kisses and affection from everyone at the orphanage--even the cleaning ladies and maintenance men! :) Danielle knew almost all of the adults' names when we would see people in the hallway.

Unfortunately, that has made it difficult for Emily in particular to recognize that where she is now is any different than an orphanage. It will be wonderful when she goes to school next year and is not sleeping at school and is bringing food from home!

The kids in the girls' orphanage received candy after nearly every meal and as snacks throughout the day, as well as when someone thought they were particularly cute or whatever. Danielle learned to skip eating actual food and would just eat the candy she was given. We've worked hard to help her develop better eating habits here at home, but once she gets a taste of candy she doesn't want to eat anything else and starts "expecting" it all of the time again.