Friday, August 31, 2012

Hygiene Hijinks and Other Adventures

I am marking our four-weeks-at-home day with a blog post!  Yay!  I thought it might be amusing, and hopefully useful, to share some vignettes of life here as we get used to the new normal.

 One of the "transition" issues we have dealt with here is the new expectations when it comes to hygiene.  It seems to me that though this orphanage was extremely structured and supportive of the children in many ways, there doesn't seem to have been much in the way of hygiene education.  In other words, no one paid attention to whether or not certain places and parts got washed at vitally important times and no one spent much time teaching hygiene techniques.

Now, don't get me wrong...I'm not being judgmental or disappointed or even disgusted.  The fact is, if I had 150 children to take care of, there would be holes in my training.  Hey, I have eight and there are holes in my training...

So, after several days it became apparent that a certain 10 year old wasn't actually washing her hair.  It was wet when she came out of the bathroom, but it didn't look like it was anything but wet.  Being concerned about her feelings and not wanting to embarass her, I didn't address it at first. 

A side note...the reality with the language barrier is that misunderstandings can happen fairly easily and feelings can be hurt when that was not the intention.  There is only so much that can be said and explained when there are only a few words in the working vocabulary.  Forget heart-to-hearts and long, detailed explanations about why things are the way they are.

Yes, I have a major advantage here because Marsh speaks Russian.  But, the day-to-day responsibility of communication is up to me...and I couldn't be more grateful for the weeks I spent with them in Ukraine.  I honestly don't know how I would have fared these last four weeks if I hadn't had that time to focus on them, learn more about them and get a feel for what it would be like once we were at home, without the requirements of the younger children taking my attention.  As much as I didn't want to be the one over there for those 22 days and as much as I didn't want to leave my little ones yet again, it was a necessary experience and I had no idea how valuable it would be to the peace of our family and my own ability to function properly as the mom to each of these important children.  The Lord knows what He is doing, my friends, even when we think we have it figured out.

Finally, Marsh asked me if she was washing her hair.  I confided that I didn't think so but I didn't know how to go about helping her with that.  I felt badly about bringing up yet ANOTHER point that she needed to change...the change to our lifestyle, our schedule, our culture, our farm, our work and just the fact that they now had parents who had expectations of their behavior, dress and attitudes seemed overwhelming to me when I looked at it from their perspective.

Finally, one day I found myself putting my foot down quite a few times as she was testing the limits and exercising some of her defiance.  No tantrums, no screaming, no storming about slamming doors or anything like that, but the defiance came in the form of a silent, focused stare away from my gaze.  She had decided that I was asking too much of her.  Too many chores, too much work.  The wonderful thing in my favor is that I already have two children exactly the same ages as our adopted kids who already have those chores, who already work and study daily and know they aren't allowed certain indulgences and receive consequences for inappropriate behaviors.  Even better, there are several younger children that have daily work and study requirements, too.  No one could argue that the two "new kids" were being treated any differently or given more work that is expected of anyone else in our household.

But, on that day, Nastia had had it.  She was done doing what I wanted her to do, done with all the new requirements, done with work and wanting to do whatever she wanted...which is all she had to do at the orphanage after school.

After her second bout with the silent "I can't see you so you don't exist" sort of stare, I got down in her gaze and explained very clearly that everyone works here...everyone eats, everyone makes messes, everyone works.  Period.  She never made eye contact, but she agreed and left to do the chore she was supposed to do with her sister.

I immediately called Marsh and told him, "You are talking to the wall that Nastia is beating her head against today!"  It was a new place for me...a more maternal place, really.  A place I hadn't gone yet, but a place I needed to be.  Suddenly, she wasn't a guest in the house anymore.  And suddenly, addressing the issue of her hair and anything else that needed to have attention wasn't so hard.  I didn't feel like I needed to apologize anymore.  The line had been crossed.

I determined that the best thing to do was to act as if nothing difficult had happened.  I vented to Marsh, listened to his counsel and had time to gather myself while she was outside grinding wheat with Emma. 

Just about 10 minutes after putting my foot down, she came in beaming and triumphantly carrying a full container of wheat flour.  The chore she was refusing to do was actually fun and she and her sister had a ball doing it.

Later that night, Marsh had to put his foot down with her, too.  He knew what had gone on earlier and came ready to deal with it if it happened again.  Sure enough, she pushed against his request too, in front of the entire family, and was carried to her room when she refused to go when asked as the consequence for defiance.  At that moment, I realized that she was probably scared of the things we were asking her to do.  She was most likely uncomfortable with the new responsibilities, and the number of them, and was afraid to do anymore.  However, helping her beyond that and not cottling her into a sense of comfort, helped her realize that she is stronger than the fear.  That day, she realized where the line was and has not tested those limits again.  She has since tackled everything else head-on...attending classes, parties, activities, joining the town soccer team and all other things that have been required of her. 

Oh, and her hair?  She tearfully let me wash it and condition it as she leaned over the side of the tub.  I kept reminding her gently that she was okay, using the happiest tone of voice I could muster.  It made all the difference.  Marsh and the older kids complimented her on how beautiful it looked and she has since tried to maintain the same standard, knowing I will follow up and check it when she has showered.  I know it doesn't get washed each time as well as I would do it, but she's 10 and there is plenty of time to learn how to do it better.  She is only one of eight instead of one of 150, now. 

And she has a mom again.


  1. You have put into words how I feel so many times about my children. I don't like to discipline them, and most often they don't like to be corrected or taught the lessons I think are important. It would be so much easier in the short term just to let things slide. But we love them too much to not go through that struggle of teaching them. We would love to see you and your children sometime!

    1. We'd love to see you, too! We love you guys.

      I have to say that I really ascribe to the "Hard-Easy, Easy-Hard" mentality a friend wrote an article about. She said it's better to have it "hard" up front by working to train them while they are young than to wait to try to train them later. To train them from the beginning makes the beginning hard, but the future will be easy. To put off the training makes today easy, but the future hard. This applies to little children as well, of course! I think families not wanting to do the hard things at the beginning is one of the major problems our society has.

  2. Alisa... you are amazing. That is all. :) Thank you so much for sharing this!

  3. You have so much courage not only to do that hard stuff but to be so honest about it! Your posts are going to be so incredibly helpful to us when we bring our girlies home.
    Hope it only gets easier from here on out!