It's 11:30 at night after another long day. As I prepare to go to sleep I feel like Adam Sandler in the movie 50 First Dates. If you haven't seen the movie, Adam plays the part of Harry who falls in love with Lucy, a beautiful girl with amneisa. Every day she wakes up and it's as though the previous day never happened. So every day Harry has to work so hard to make Lucy fall in love with him.
This has been my life for the past two days with my new daughter, Elliana. I feel like the dorky junior high student who is in love with the most beautiful girl in school who keeps asking her to the 8th grade dance multiple times every day, only to be rejected over and over again. It's heartbreaking. It hurts every time. But he know if he keeps asking her, one day she'll say "yes." My heart aches for that "yes."
As Leslie and I were anticipating adoption we attended numerous conferences to help us prepare. At one conference the speaker spoke of the "attachment dance." Children from difficult places have trouble attaching emotionally and relationally because, quite frankly, no one in their lives helped them create that secure attachment. No one cuddled them. No one answered their cries for help. At one conference the speaker told about how quiet it was at bedtime in the orphanage because the kids learn at an early age that if you cry, no one is going to pick you up, so there's no need to try. It's heartbreaking to think about.
So as an adoptive parent, you have to learn to dance. You have to hear her cries and respond, you have to listen to her needs and show love and concern, you have to hold her, you have to be present. As you connect with your child, a beautiful dance ensues. So here's a list of all the things I did to ask her to dance today:
-I got her some yogurt for breakfast
-I offered her some of my juice
-I took her to to zoo
-I tried to hold her hand and walk with her
-I picked her up to show her the animals (by the way, she had never been to the zoo in her life)
-I bought her some jelly beans
-I playfully threw her in the air
-I tried to color in her coloring book with her
-I tried to play the iPad with her
-I kissed her cheek
-I blew kisses to her
-When she cried, I hugged her
-I even held her for an hour and a half as she slept (she didn't know it, of course, because she would have never allowed me to hold or snuggle her that long).
Each time I invited her to the dance she would look at me with sad eyes, with eyes that didn't trust me, she would turn away, she would cry or she would say (in Chinese), "Baba, don't touch that."
It's hard to be rejected so many times in one day. It takes an emotional toll. But it's not about me, it's about her. This girl IS the most beautiful girl in the world. I love her so much. I want her to feel secure. I want her to feel safe. I want her to know I will not leave her. I want her to know she can trust me. Not for me, but for her wounded heart. I prayed for this girl before I met her, but since I've met her I have prayed with tears every night.
I see the way she looks at me when I ask her to dance. Her eyes are a window to her wounded soul. Sometimes her eyes show hurt deep inside and her they tell me, "Baba, I don't want to be hurt." Other times her eyes say, "Baba, I can't trust you." Other times it's just confusion- "Baba, why are you trying to love me?"
So after a day of trying and getting nothing but "no's" I had resigned myself to try again tomorrow. Maybe tomorrow she'll say "yes" and we can dance. When we returned to our room after dinner a pillow fight among the kids started and Elli was right in the middle of it. She was the only one with a pillow and the boys took turns getting hit and dramatically falling onto the bed. She laughed and laughed. I stood and watched it all unfold.
Then that "nervous junior higher" voice spoke up in my head- "You've got to ask her again." I argued back, "Not today. I've had enough rejections today." I knelt down beside the bed. I was so nervous. With a voice that could crack at any moment I mustered up the strength to invite her to dance- "Elli, hit Baba with the pillow." The madness of the pillow fight stopped for a moment and she focused those beautiful eyes on me. It was about a 3 second pause but I could read it in her eyes. This time it wasn't a statement, it was a question: "Baba, can I trust you?"
And the first move of our dance began. In breathtaking unison she hit me with the pillow and I flopped around like a fish. She laughed a different kind of laugh. It wasn't like any other laugh I heard when she hit her brothers. It was a beautiful laugh where the safety she felt in that moment was expressed in a laugh of sheer joy. I got off the floor and we danced some more. She hit me, I would flop. Hit, flop. One, two, repeat. All in the rhythm of a growing love. I made sure not to miss a beat. If she swung the pillow, I acted like she was hitting me with "Mike Tyson in his prime"-like force. In all, the dance lasted about 3 minutes.
But they were the greatest 3 minutes of my day. I asked her to dance again: I tried to take her swimming. She looked so cute in her swimsuit. But this time her eyes said, 'No, Baba. Not this time." But she sat and watched with Mama with her legs crossed in the adorable way she always does.
A friend texted me today and asked, "Does she have you around her finger yet?" I responded, "Yes, she has me completely: I just don't have her yet." I know the day will come when I will win her over. I know she will one day say to me, "Yes, Baba, we can dance." Today, I got a hesitant "yes" for 3 minutes.
I don't know what will happen when she wakes up tomorrow morning. I don't know if she'll remember those 3 minutes of dancing. But I do know this: even if she doesn't remember, I'm asking her to the dance yet again. And I won't stop until I hear those words, "Yes, Baba. I will go to the dance with you."