Friday, February 29, 2008

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Kristina?

Julie Andrews I am not, although our family seems to resemble the von Trapps more each year. I've had a few emails asking me to discuss the issues that have arisen as we parent Kristina. Like many children who have passed through the orphanage system, she has seen and experienced more than any child should. We deal with issues as they arise as creatively and patiently as possible. God is teaching me so much through this. Robert laughs at my frustration and takes great joy in reminding me how alike Kristina and I are: our stubbornness, our inability to admit when we need help, etc. So in a way, as I discipline her, I am being disciplined by our heavenly Father with the same lessons.

Initially, it was the things she wanted that irked me: teen magazines, makeup, clothes, shoes, etc. The first two are absolute no no's. I made that clear right away. She is coming from a culture that values the worth of a person largely based on the exterior appearance and entering a culture that does the same thing on a whole different level. Last summer Kristina would flip through magazines and point to pictures indicating, "This woman is good. She is a good woman." The "good women" were the beautiful ones. At first, I thought it was just a matter of miscommunication. But after some time and several conversations, I came to understand she really was judging people by their appearance. Beautiful, glamorous people were good. It alarmed me to know that her concept of people was based on physical observation. After spending time in Ukraine, I think I understand why she thinks like this. Like any other 12 year old, she wants to be 30 years old. But the desire is SO much more pronounced with Kristina. She struggles with understanding that she's still a child and we find ourselves putting her in her place quite a bit.

Bringing Kristina home right before Christmas was a mixed bag of blessings. While we were excited to share the holiday with her, I wanted to be sure that we didn't set an unrealistic precedent with gift giving. Before we had even left Ukraine, she had gotten in the habit of asking for things any time we went in a store. While the cost of the things she was asking for ($2 for a magazine, $1 for chap stick) wasn't much, I didn't want to satisfy her developing desire to have stuff just because she could.

I actually avoided taking her shopping at Wal-Mart when we first came home. Everything was "fascinating" and "beautiful" and her "favorite". I often had to prep her before we went into stores that she wasn't to ask for anything (don't laugh, Dad). We would walk up and down the aisles and she would pick up items, clutch them to her chest, and whimper to indicate her desire for the cherished product. I would shake my head, hide my growing agitation at the routine, and ignore the protruding lower lip she would inevitably sport. Differentiating between wants and needs has been an ongoing lesson for Kristina. You would think that a kid who has had so little for so long would be able to distinguish between the two, but no.

I bought her a pair of black athletic shoes at Target before I returned to pick her up in November. I checked her size before I left Ukraine and asked her what color she wanted. She was thrilled with them when I returned. But once we got to America, she wanted different shoes. She wanted new ones. I explained that we only buy new shoes when we need them, not when we want them. "Need them" means you've outgrown them and I have found a pair on sale and in your size. She continued to grumble about needing new ones and I continued to have her recite the difference between "wants" and "needs". Sporting muddy tennis shoes that they were busting out of from 6 months of wear and tear, Samuel and Nathanael returned from a youth retreat with the church around that time. I promptly took Kristina along to shop for the boys' new shoes. Now, some of you will say that was cruel, but I wanted her to understand how the process works. Wanna guess what she did?

At first it was just a wear mark the size of a nickel on the front toe of one shoe; the result of Fred Flintstone style brakes for her bike. She insisted that now she needed new shoes. Livid, I showed Robert what she had done. He smiled, called her in the room, and showed her how he could fix the problem with a black Sharpie. Her face fell as she watched him "color" the worn areas away. It wasn't much longer before she came in sporting these:

No Sharpie in the world was going to fix that kind of damage. So you know what I did? I went to Wal-Mart, found an adorable pair of athletic shoes in her size at 70% off, and . . . put them in the back of my closet. I've made her wear those pathetic, torn up shoes for the last three weeks. Knowing that she has to wear those shoes unless they spontaneously combust has caused her to take better care of them. She's embarrassed by the way they look and I smile every time I hear her sigh as she laces them up. She doesn't know I have a new pair in my closet and until she learns to value what she has, rather than what she wants, she won't see them at the end of her scrawny little legs.

I also bought her a pair of flip flops and a pair of dress shoes for church when we returned from Ukraine. When we went shopping for the church shoes, she wanted heels. Can you see me standing the in the shoe aisle with my eyebrows raised? "Um, no." I picked out a cute pair of open toe flats which she promptly turned her nose up at. She found a different pair that we could agree on and those became her church shoes. Until . . . we got home and she saw Hannah's open toe flats and decided she wanted those instead. Every Sunday I hear her mumble under her breath, "Hannah shoes so pretty. I want shoes like Hannah, but Mama says no". I told her she's welcome to wear her athletic shoes instead . . .


I guess the problem is really a heart issue. Learning to be content with what you have, learning to place value on treasures of the heart rather than the pocket, its a learning process for all of us.

Testing, Testing, One, Two, Three . . .

Anyone still out there? Chances are I'm talking to Dad who is my lone audience, but I'll take that chance. Lest you think its all rock concerts, let me get you up to speed. There hasn't been a lot of posting going on lately and that's not because we're following Hannah Montana on tour around America or something. Really, its not all that exciting around here. I'm not complaining though! We've settled into a routine of school, church, friends, and family and that's just how I like it.

Let me give a genuine piece of advice to future AP's and new AP's. This is going to sound obvious, but its not something I did right away. Make time for yourself soon and often once you return home. It was a Friday afternoon and I was exhausted at the end of a long week. I had been teacher, tutor, mom, wife, interpreter, referee, and much more. I was on the way to drop the boys off for a weekend retreat with their youth group when Robert called to say he was taking the other three to the dollar movie. It hit me that I had at least two and a half hours of uninterrupted "me" time on my hands. I can't begin to tell you how rare a commodity that is! I rushed home to a quiet, empty house. The cats, sensing the change in atmosphere, followed me into the darkening living room. I popped in a movie knowing I would be able to watch it the whole way through without having to pause it and tend to any emergencies. Just this little bit of time did so much for me.

Make time for relationships outside the home too. I thought I would come out of my skin the first time I was able to sit down across from my best friends Cindy and Kim away from the hustle and bustle of home. They couldn't talk fast enough to update me on what had been going on in their lives. And I was beyond anxious to share what had been going on with us. Girl time has been a precious thing for me and we're already scouting fares and hotel deals for our annual trip. Stepping outside of the the role of mom (adoptive or otherwise) is just necessary sometimes.

Kristina continues to adjust and adapt to life as a Landrum. I've been trying to put in writing the difficulties adjusting for all of us, but finding the words has been a lot harder than you'd think. I believe God is in the middle of a lesson with me, so when I figure things out I'll let you know. ;)

We've said before that we feel God was beginning something when He added Kristina to our family. The adoption was the start of something rather than the end. Do we hope to add more children to our family through adoption? Absolutely. But God is calling us to serve further in orphan ministry, and we are waiting for direction to that end. Please pray with us that the vision and vehicle for that ministry would be clear.