Exactly two months ago I arrived home with sweet Mari.
So much has happened in two short months.
First of all, her use of English has exploded and, as quickly as the English comes, the Amharic leaves. That makes me sad, but I know it is normal for a child her age. She rarely speaks Amharic anymore. Even when she plays with her dolls, they speak English to each other. She uses words like "wonderful" and "time for bye-bye" and tells me often that "Mari no nigh-night" just minutes before falling asleep in the car. She is learning the blessings of obedience and loves to help me "cuh-leen up" just about anything. Her quest for control has lessened as her trust has grown. It is not over, not by a long shot, but it is definitely getting easier to reign her in when she is being difficult. If you could see her angelic face you would say "What? That angel baby can be difficult?" I know, I know, but the truth is, the honeymoon ended about 2 weeks ago. How do I know?
Believe me, it is quite obvious when the honeymoon ends. She absolutely tried herself last weekend, and apparently I looked a bit...um...not happy. She looked at me and said "Mommy, Mari no bye-bye." My heart sank because it confirmed what I suspected. She was seeing if she could push us away. I had to be up to the challenge of enforcing limits yet smothering her in hugs and kisses between time-outs to reassure her that this is just part of family life. Sometimes you just have hard days. The manipulation that was your survival mechanism is no longer necessary, sweet one. You can relax and take your finger off that button you keep pushing.
Yes, Little Sister can push buttons like a pro, tattling on Drew (who has had the most difficult adjustment due to their close age) and relishing the possibility of seeing him get in trouble. I have to be extremely careful to not let her exert power over him so that HE knows his position in the family is secure. He has needed lots of Mommy TLC and babying to remind him that he is, in fact, my baby boy even if he is HUGE for a four year old (he can rest his chin on her head)...but I digress. They are getting along better and better each day, and he is realizing his important role as big brother. But there are those moments when naps are needed, not only for their sake, but for mommy's sanity.
I could end most world conflicts with the diplomacy skills I have learned, oh yes I could.
One funny thing I have to add here. Several days ago, he was playing with a toy and Mari seized a moment when he was distracted to take said toy. He looked at me in all seriousness and said "I don't like Africans playing with my stuff."
I nearly choked on my Ethiopian Yirgacheffe.
Yes, that is my coffee of choice.
That being said, I really don't have any more behavior issues with her than I have with the others at this age. She is four. Four year olds can be annoying. Four year olds don't like boundaries yet desperately need them, and four year olds can "do it myself" yet melt down when, in fact, they can't. She is a completely normal four year old despite the abnormal way she spent the past year of her life and the abnormal amount of loss she has experienced. She is loving, almost always kind, compassionate, affectionate, hilarious, and strong-willed. She laughs from deep in her belly, and her eyes sparkle when she does something to make us say "Good job!"
Our biggest battle right now is over food. Though she nearly starved to death by the age of three, she is one picky eater. I know, though, that this behavior has started because she now knows there is a pantry and fridge full of food to be eaten and that there is no longer the threat of hunger in her life. She also knows Mommy wants her to eat her "good food to make her tummy happy" and, in another effort to have control, flat out refuses to eat about half her meals. So I have had to do some creative bargaining and let her learn the hard way when all who ate their lunch get a lollipop or brownie but she doesn't. She fully understands her decision, which is interesting...she never throws a fit about it. She just tries to see if I have forgotten and asks for "carmela" and I say, "No carmela because no eat. If you eat your good food, then you get carmela." She smiles like she is thinking "I knew you would say that" and goes on about her business. She is no dummy.
I have learned so much from her in two months. She responds wonderfully well to structure and thrives in a quiet room. When we are homeschooling, she is very happy to sit down and color with crayons or play with blocks. She likes to "check in" every few minutes, telling me she loves me or showing me something she has made. She and Drew sometimes go off together and play and it thrills me when they head upstairs, hand-in-hand. She is crazy about DJ and Katie, and Gracie sees her as a living baby doll who is oh-so-fun to dress up. She has integrated into our lives so well...or is it that we have integrated into hers? We have all changed as a result of her addition to our family, and it has all been for the better.
Sometimes when I look into her eyes I see Africa so clearly and I long to hear the sounds of Addis or smell the air on Entoto Mountain. I see her trust and her attachment to me, and her need for me to fight for her...to let her know in no uncertain terms that she belongs here, with us. Friends may come and go, but we are family, forever and unyielding in our loyalty.
Life with Mari is...how do I sum it up?
Well, it is normal. It feels right and natural. It is joy, frustration, wonder, and pride all at once. It is the realization that, without God right in the middle of each day, I will fall flat on my face and fail my children miserably. But with Him leading the way, I see my children coming together in love and learning more each day what it means to heal, to be redeemed, and to be chosen.
I gave this post the title "Full Circle" for a reason. Tonight, exactly two months after coming home, Mari stood in the exact same airport terminal and welcomed her friend, T, to America. She was so excited to see him and his brother (who has been home since August), as she had known them both in Ethiopia. As we prepared to drive to the airport she told me she was going to hug them both, and she did. To watch a friend come home, to know that there are now three of them here, living within miles of each other, was very powerful for her. We have talked over the past several weeks about how T's older brother was home, but T was in Ethiopia, waiting...well tonight she said "Mommy, T is at his HOUSE!"
Yes, another little heart is beginning to heal tonight.
I wonder what they will be saying two months from now.