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Destinations, Dreams and Dogs - International adventure with a fast-track family (& dogs) of Old World values, adopting the Russian-Italian-American good life on the go…!

“Feelings” and the Internationally-Adopted Child

Many of our kids have never had an identified feeling in their lives beyond “happy” or “sad”. They’ve experienced plenty of negatives, for sure, but always stuffed them deep inside. Navigating the course of new life in a new land calls for them to be self-aware, whereas in the orphanage, most did not have any time for such frivolous thoughts.

Cue up the music: “Feelings, wo-o-o feelings….”

“What are you feeling today?” I start off our fireside chat.

Over the past three days approaching Thanksgiving, we have discussed 48 different emotions 3x each day. A little overkill? I am trying to familiarize them with potential feelings. We speak of these emotions in Russian and in English, say what they might sound like or look like, when they really happen on the inside. Naturally, Sashenka, our 10-year-old who rarely understands any exercise we may be undertaking, plunges in with both feet.

“I like our doggies,” she declares.

“Okay, good…” I try to be encouraging, but their magnifying glass is always turned outward.

“But how about on the inside, what are you feeling?”

We draw a blank.

“Would you like for me to list some possible feelings again?” I offer.

“No, Mama, that’s okay,” they are all sure of that, at least.

“Do you remember the emotions we talked about, can you name any that were new for you?”

Another blank.

I ask them to write in their diaries, instead. Everyone’s assignment for today is to write two sentences in English and the same two sentences in Russian about what feelings they have inside. They report back in the afternoon.

Petya: grateful and helpful.

Pasha: helpful.

Mashenka: quiet and peaceful.

Sashenka: peaceful.

Hmm… my first thought is that perhaps we’ve had a little sneaky-peeky going on, or at least some discussion that would result in their responses being so similar in nature-? My second thought is that they must be speaking by faith the things that they want to see in their emotional lives because our second, third, and fourth children have almost exactly the opposite attributes that they are now self-ascribing.

“Quiet and peaceful?” I look at the girls. They shrug their shoulders.

Grant it, Lord.

It occurs to me that they are all in the classic avoidance pattern: “Ignore it, and it will get bigger.”  My feeling is that we need to address feelings, head-on. I’m not looking for any deep, dark secrets, just the slight opening of the proverbial can of worms.

My kids need to be de-wormed and they don’t know it. Maybe we should visit the vet.

I ask Benedetto to intervene, which is not smart, because he usually has 101 other things he needs to do. Being the touchy-feely therapist is not his calling in life. I raise my eyebrows and silently suggest that perhaps it should be his biggest priority for the next five minutes or so.

“Alright,” he plunges in, “anger, frustration–anybody ever feel these things?”

Talk about the cat that swallowed the canary. They look this way and that, trying their best to look quiet, peaceful, and helpful.

“I no have no flusiteration,” Mashenka goes into her head-wobbling, rapid-eye-flitting right and left, right and left.

“Frustration is when you want to do something, but can’t,” my husband explains.

“Well, maybe in school,” she says through clenched teeth with an ugly look on her face.

We’re trying to get the kids to understand that they are in control of their emotions and how to recognize when they’re headed down the wrong path.

“Where did this anger come from?” I explore with them. “Why would a 10, 12, and 14-year-old have such anger? Many people become frustrated, but they don’t totally shut down, or become belligerent and angry, or sob uncontrollably. Where do you think the anger comes from?”

“Our birth families,” says Sashenka, spot-on for once.

“Why would you say that?” I ask, wanting these to be their answers and not mine.

“Because they were always screaming and angry.”

“Good, okay, and that’s not normal to be screaming and angry. But if that’s what you saw modeled in front of you all the time, chances are, that’s how you’ll act, too. Right?” I agree. Mashenka is still silent, unwilling to join in.

Pasha dives in.

“I never knew how to talk on the telephone in Russia,” he says sadly.

“Yes, I remember.”  We had called him one time years ago and he stood silently at the phone when we tried to chat with him, saying not one word. “But we’re talking about feelings we have today, not something that happened in the past.” Where is Benedetto in all this, I ponder, as he moves pots and pans around the kitchen. I’m on my own. Mashenka starts to laugh at Pasha. So much for familial support and empathy.

“Fear?” Benedetto joins us again. When I put you all to bed at night, some of you tell me that you’re afraid to go to sleep. You have nightmares and are afraid.”

“People were always trying to hurt us at night in Russia,” Sashenka reveals, with Mashenka nodding, very sober for her own hurts, while dismissing others.

“But girls,” I protest, “that was years ago in Russia. We’re talking about emotions you feel right now. Why would you be afraid from events that happened long ago? Would you like Pasha to laugh at your experiences like you laughed at his? Maybe he feels embarrassed now when he doesn’t know how to act, or what to do, and it reminds him of the same feelings he had when he couldn’t talk on the telephone. Maybe you have things happening now that remind you of being fearful back then?”

I encourage them to think of triggers, what might get them headed in any downward spiral, and learn to catch themselves as it is happening.

“Can you feel the beginning of when you become angry, or embarrassed, or fearful, or frustrated? Can you sense when it’s starting?” I coach. “Mama and Papa see it coming and we tell you to fight back.”

They all acknowlege that they don’t have a clue when the dark side is beginning to envelope them, and the storm clouds are gathering, which is obvious if they’ve pegged themselves as peaceful, quiet, and helpful, while in reality are fearful, angry, and frustrated. If they never acknowlege it, how will they ever overcome it?

These are not belligerant, sullen teens and pre-teens, 90% of the time. Everyone considers them models of propriety and manners, yet we at home see the occasional black ooze glimpse of these negative emotions, simmering sinisterly beneath the surface. For their sakes, it’s best to deal with the feelings a little at a time, whenever they’re ready.

Pasha, who’s the oldest and very self-aware, asks our help in understanding how he deals with frustration. We discuss with him, how he sometimes wants to give up, if he senses that the rules in a game have unjustly changed, or that someone else is not really keeping their word. He laughs in recognition as we give him a few examples.

“No matter what someone else does, you still need to be who you are, a new person with a new future before you,” I encourage. “Don’t let the emotions suck you down.”

At least we’ve opened the emotional can of worms. What comes crawling out may not be neat or pretty, but the process has been started. For years, they have been shut-down in their emotions, trying to survive in an institutional setting. By working through that, they are free to experience more positive emotions, receive healing for their hurts, and move into their new lives without the burdensome baggage from the past.

For that, we give thanks this Thanksgiving. From our family-in-progress to yours: Wishing you a meaningful Thanksgiving, acknowledging the Source of every blessing! He is our confidence of a secure and emotionally-healthy future, from generation to generation.


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