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.


Tami said...

I'm proud of you for sticking with it, even in the face of protruding lower lips. Hang in there. She'll catch on. (But I have to give her credit for creativity and stick-to-itiveness! :)

Anonymous said...

I have "stalked" your blog for the last month. The first weekend I discovered it via the Eimers blog, I was hooked for an entire weekend. I laughed an cried through most of it. I adore your family and I am so proud of you for giving Kristina forever family and guidance and support and discipline. Most importantly, I am so glad that at least one other child will know her Savior and will grow to love Him as her own. Keep up the great work. You will change the lives of many through your goodwill and deeds. I will pray diligently for your clarity on orphan missions and for you growing family. God bless you guys. :)

Anonymous said...

Goodness, I need a spell checker. LOL

Michelle R Photography said...

I just found your blog through Leslie's My Girls blog. I was so moved by the video she posted. Such staggering statistics. My husband and I were set to host a 14-year old girl from Ukraine at the end of March and then the orphanage director had a change of heart. We have a newfound interest in Ukraine and older children. I plan on coming back and reading more about your journey to Kristina.

Anonymous said...

We've been home for 6 years with our Ukrainian angels and we struggle with similar clothing issues, with our SON! Actually he takes it to a new level. He begs for clothes, we buy them, he refuses to wear them. It's so ingrained in him, we'll take a lifetime breaking this habit, or die trying. Glad you're back to blogging. Hearing about other adoptive families 'challenges' makes me feel more 'normal, so keep blogging!
Catherine Hendrickson

Steve Eimers said...

OK, in our case this wasn't intentional destruction of property but now I absolutely MUST take a picture to post of our oldest son's shoes at one month old! Peek over to my site sometime in the next day or so and I should have it there!

Melissa E.

Anonymous said...

Just want you to know what you are confronting is universal, compounded in this case by Kristina's conditioning in a far away different time and place. She didn't get to the orphanage with high self esteem in her family background did she? I doubt it.

Think what both of you are fighting, and she must challenge to assure herself of your steadfastness. This might all be a dream mighten it? She needs to slowly learn that she is a totally loved and legitimate daughter no different from your other children.

That will be hard and when push comes to shove it will be harder on you than Kristina.

God bless, I've been following your story as soon as I found it and put you and your family on in the Ukraine Children suite, on the Adopt Ukraine page.

Keep teaching us please.

All the best to the entire family. Kristina, you are loved as much as anyone else in this world and loved by many.

Keep learning and practicing your native language as well as English. God Bless you young lady.

Unknown said...

Hang in there, Leslie and Robert! You are doing a fine job-- thanks so much for sharing this life lesson.

Anonymous said...

I hope in Kindness and Love, there was one thing that kinda gave me a tinge and I think it was just a writer's slip of the pen.

You asked "How do you solve a problem like Kristina?" If she is a problem please let's all put that in our prayers. Maybe this was God's answer about the mission idea and further adoption. I have no clue.

Anonymous said...

I hope I'm not out of line here, but I thought I would respond to David's last comment. I think the title refers to a song from The Sound of Music called HREF="">"How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?" . Knowing Kristina from Leslie's past writings, the song fits her perfectly. She's a kid who's hearts in the right place, but often marches to the beat of her own drum. We're all "problems needing to be solved". Thankfully Jesus is the solution for all of us! Keep writing, Leslie!

Stephanee&Zach said...

Leslie, Thanks so much for writing about both your joys and trials with adopting precious Kristina. From your honest and entertaining :) sharing of your lives, we have been given encouragement to host and now to pursue adopting this child and her sister too. The honesty is what makes it all seem real - we know there will be struggles - we saw a glimpse of some of that with hosting - but if we have even a fraction of the joy and blessings you guys have had, we would do it ten times over. And with the struggles comes growth and learning and grace each day - for us all. Anyways - thank you!


Leslie said...

Thanks for clarifying that, Anonymous. Yes, the title came from a song in The Sound of Music. David, I apologize if the title was confusing. Our little girl brings both smiles and trials, as any child would biological or adopted.

Leslie said...

Tami, stick-to-itiveness? Well, let me share that benediction with you, my friend. May Maddie be blessed with stick-to-itiveness too!
Love ya!

Unknown said...

Thank you for sharing! Hang in there, I think Kristina is still just testing the waters to see what she can get away with.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Aonymous and Leslie, I figured it had to be something I wasn't getting but for the life of me, even with your hint I couldn't come to grips with it.

Yes indeed, that child is a joy to watch through your YouTube clips. She looks to be mostly in enthusiastic motion. I just wondered if it were I at her age how would I act and react in her position. I don't know but I bet not well at all.

I think about you and her and your family often and all of you are in my amazed thoughts. :) All the best. David

P.S. Plase continue to instruct and inspire us through your sharing and example.

adoptedthree said...

excellent advice. I think you have taught me some mommy ideas!

Ken and Joy said...

Hi Leslie! Would you mind if i contacted you by e-mail? I had a couple questions for you, but there is not enough space in the comments area! My e-mail is


Jim H. said...

Great post Leslie! We too learned quickly that our daughters have little respect for the things we bought for them. They are now on allowances and must buy their own things that aren't absolute necessities. Shoe shopping is big in our house too and I must admit I cringe at many of their choices. Color coordination is also quite interesting!

Chris and Virginia said...

I've read numerous posts with similar problems understanding the value of goods. Just a long shot, but maybe it's because these kids haven't had anything that they could value as their own in such a long time, hence objects don't have any intrinsic value. What would happen in the orphanage if a child tore through a pair of shoes like that? Just a thought.

What a wonderful video (math problem). Guess I'll have to relearn my math skills the way they teach them now days so I can at least help with the easy stuff.

Thanks for keeping us updated.

Leslie G said...

Great post Leslie!
We struggle with some of the same issues here, even though our DD from Ukraine is only 7. I laughed about the shoes, you see, we have a pair of green crocs that were great, until we saw something we liked better. The straps "mysteriously" fell off. DD has learned that mom knows you CAN wear them just fine without the straps until they are too little.

About the beauty.....DD asked me one day (in a tone that I could tell she was expecting "yes" for an answer...) "mom, did you and dad come to Ukraine and pick me because I was so beautiful when you saw me????" She has much to learn.....

Nataliya said...

You are absolutely right in the fact that exterior appearance is very important in Ukrainian culture, so it will take some time for Kristina to get used to a different culture. But don't worry, it's very normal to want everything in the beginning! I remember myself when I just came to the States :)

Wendy said...

Not only am I not Julie Andrews but I don't even have a tiny bit of Martha Stewart either! However I am really good with Duct Tape and probably would have used that on her shoes!! With duct tape at least you know it is almost indestructable and is cheap to add more!