I even have a superstition that has grown on me
as the result of invisible hands
coming all the time..
Namely, that if you follow your bliss
you put yourself on a kind of track
that has been there all the while,
waiting for you.
And the life that you ought to be living,
is the one you ARE living.
-joseph campbell


Sunday, May 16, 2010

Memory and Language


Having often wondered what memories of China are stored in my girls little minds, today I had an experience that chilled me to the bone.

My understanding of the research was that children who lose their birth language may lose memories from that part of the brain. Having an experience as a two year old in China and then being adopted and losing the Chinese language as an unfortunate side affect of learning English might mean the experience was also lost.

I have proof that isn't true. And I might have the research wrong. So feel free to comment the correct facts if you know them!

Today has been a most difficult day with Delilah. She has been oppositional in a way we haven't seen since her first weeks home with us. We traveled to Inner Mongolia on June 8th last year so we are coming up on several important one year anniversaries.

One of the behaviors Delilah returned to today was refusing to wear a diaper. She isn't potty trained and we are not pushing it as we are still sorting out her medical issues. Today we walked down memory lane as we saw her the way she was last summer...... absolutely determined not to wear a diaper.

She did other things too. Like standing in front of the TV so no one could watch, taking something from her sister and running, just for the effect of it all. Ornery. That might be a good word to describer her today. But it was purposeful and intense, as if she was trying her best to behave badly.

Late in the day, something came to my mind and I shared with Mark that it was probably about a year ago exactly that Delilah was removed from her foster family and taken to the orphanage where she had never been. We discussed how we might see this odd behavior over the next month. Orphanage life is brutal, but it is especially hard if you are almost three years old and you've never lived like that. How sad and frightened she must have been! She must have wondered who would take care of her. She must have wondered where her family had gone. I hated thinking about it last year, and I still hate it.

There are some things we know about her time at the orphanage. We were told she cried so much that a particular nanny took pity on her and invited her to go home with her at night.

We also know Delilah came to us with a severe injury to her left heel. She was heavily bandaged and had been to the hospital every day for a week. Her heel had been almost amputated in an accident we were told happened on her way home with the nanny. She had been riding on the back of the nanny's bicycle and her foot had gotten entangled in the spokes and there had been a crash. It was a terrible injury. It may have been handled differently if it happened to a child here, but we were just thankful she could walk and we could keep her out of pain and the antibiotics kept infection at bay. It was an open flesh wound, no doubt quite tramatic and painful and frightening for a child. Especially a child who had just lost the only family she had ever known.

Today Delilah began to speak to us about this experience. She talked about it for a long time and she knew details of the story that we could not have told her because we did not know them!!!! She had been angry all day, judging by her statements and her behavior and her anger showed as she recounted the day the accident happened.......

"I sit on lady bicycle and go fast. I put my foot back and it get stuck in back of bicycle. I get big boo boo and cry and cry, .............. but other lady pick me up. I was soooooo mad. I miss you. Why you not pick me up?"

It broke my heart to hear her slightly mixed up timeline. How I wish I could have comforted her when she had such a scary experience and felt so alone. When I think of how trauma looks in the eyes of children, Delilah's accident is a good example.

And you see, she is mad........ who wouldn't be! She wants someone to be accountable. Who would let such a thing happen to a little child? Why weren't we there? It hurts her to remember being so alone. And her reaction is to hurt us back by pushing us away with her oppositional behavior.

I know we will see the face of this pain many times, but today we held her and we told her how we wish we could have been with her then too, and how we were coming to her as fast as we could. We told her how we would have picked her up and held her if only we could have been there.

We also told her in every way we could think of that we would always be her family. We would take care of her forever. I still think it must be a difficult concept for children to internalize, so it's crucial I make a point of emphasizing our permanence as a family regularly.

So if I ever wondered what memories are hidden behind all the changes my girls have seen over the past couple years, I now believe the memories are alive and well, for better or worse, and I may see more of them as time goes by. I need to be open and alert and ready to recognize the precious nuggets of truth in the stories they tell!

I'm excited and thankful to see Delilah able to relate memories from her first language in the language of her forever home. Quite an accomplishment for a still three year old!





5 comments:

  1. Heartbreaking. But how wonderful that she can put memory to words in her new language. How wonderful that she trusts you all enough to deliberately BE naughty. How heartbreaking and wonderful all at once. Love that kid of yours...

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  2. Wow. I totally agree with you on the memory and trauma stuff. My son was taken from his birth mom at four months old when she stole a car and led the police on a high speed chase wit him in the back seat. One day we happened upon some road construction. A police care was escorting cars through it. He saw it and freaked out. He asked if I was going to get a ticket. He said that if I got a ticket from the police officer I would not be his mommy anymore. He was terribly distressed. Of course the stolen car was not the only reason he was never returned to his birth mom's care, but in his memory that is what remains. Breaks my heart.

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  3. We have had similar experiences with Maddie. She remembers her heart surgery which took place in China around age 3 as best as we can figure. She got very mad at us asking why we stayed home watching TV and left her alone in the hospital and let the doctors hurt her. It's hard to hear and hard to explain as a child that age can't understand a proper timeline. I don't think memories go away with language. I think memories are expressed in other ways until language catches up. It is wonderful that D can now give voice to her memories. Be mad with her. ((hugs))

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  4. Sherri,

    Thank you for sharing this heartbreaking memory of D's. She is an incredible little girl and she has every reason to be mad. I know how hard it can be to syep back from the behavior and look at what is really causing it. Congratulations to you for knowing what she needed and for being there for her without judgement. You are correct in that the research says that our kids do not remember as they lose birth language, but you and I know that they remember on a deep subconscious level all the trauma and pain they experience, whether it happens before or after birth. Unfortunately, it is often hard for them to put those feelings and emotions into words in any language. I am sad that Delilah experienced the things she did, but I am so happy to know that she has a family that loves her and will help her on the road to healing.
    Give that precious girlie a hug from me. Anniversaries are always so tough for our kiddos. Much strength and love to you all.

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