Wednesday, March 30, 2011

What are Sisters Made Of?


Everytime someone asks me if Cami and Delilah are sisters, I cringe a little inside. I cringe because I know what they are really asking and I know what they will say when I answer, "Yes, these two are sisters".

They will then want to know if they are REALLY sisters.

Deep Sigh. Sometimes I just say yes and move on. I don't feel I owe the world a genetic background check just because they are curious. Sometimes the trail of questions jumps the track and people want to know if my girls are twins. They aren't the same age or the same size, but I find people generally don't look much further than the fact that they are Chinese. That is not enough to make them twins.

Most of the time I try to keep these encounters short and as sweet as possible, guarding first the feelings and comfort of my children, and then the questioning adults. There is no reason my girls unknown family tree needs to be brought out and examined just because someone who thinks all Chinese people look alike has some time to kill.

Recently I started thinking about the sisterhood of my two youngest girls. What people usually don't know is that not only are they sisters to each other, but there are actually four sisters in our family, along with one brother. All these relationships are unique and usually they go unnoticed and unquestioned.

The relationship drawing the most interest seems to be the youngest duo dancing a tango to their own music, making it up as they go along. Watching their dance has been one more unexpected fringe benefit to adoption. It's been one more chance witness a miracle unfolding in front of me! I'm thankful to be their mom with a front row seat.

When siblings are born into a family, they come as small helpless babies that might make noise, but they don't move around alot. For Cami, gaining Delilah as a sister was a sudden jolt into the reality of having a noisy and fast moving person taking up lots of her space, touching all her things, and claiming her most treasured possessions.......her mom and dad! Cami was 3 and Delilah was 2 years old on that hot, steamy afternoon in the Galactic Peace hotel in Hohhot, Inner Mongolia when Delilah limped into our life like a colorful, somewhat frightening, sometimes magical character in a fairytale. (The limp was a surprise. She had been in a bike accident just days before we arrived. Her foot was caught in the spokes and it was by the Grace of God that she suffered no worse harm) If you've been in China or seen the traffic, you know the lives of the bike riders are constantly at risk!

Below is a photo Cami, Delilah, and mom and dad, taken just a few minutes after we met our newest daughter.


And a bit later, this classic photo shows that Cami might be just a little stressed. The poor child she is playing with is our guide's precious little girl. How do you like this for an adoption poster-child? LOL! Can't you just feel the love!


Anyway, my point of writing is to describe the sister relationship and how it evolved. Cami had been well prepared for her little sister coming home. At least I thought she had been prepared. Look back, it's striking to remember she was only three years old and had heard her first word in English only about a year earlier. I will never know what she really expected.

Yet somehow both girls had an instinct for becoming sisters.

Becoming sisters is wearing matching pajamas and brushing your teeth while making faces in the mirror.

Becoming sisters is sitting side by side on a bus, unable to speak the same language, holding hands instead.

Becoming sisters is sharing mom's lap, sharing a bowl of noodles and a bottle of water.

Becoming sisters is sharing sleep and bubble baths and a stroller.

To be fair, it was not all rainbows and unicorns during those first weeks. Without language, toddler girls pull out rather primitive means of settling their differences.

We went to a family cookout soon after coming home from China and one of the little cousins later told her mom she could tell which girl was which. She said, "Delilah has the black eye and Cami has the scratches on her throat". Please see Exhibit A posted below!


But still, they held hands. They identified as sisters, as one of a pair, of part of something special. Before our second adoption, I spoke with an attachment therapist and she gave me a couple incredibly helpful bits of advice:

She said, "Treat the girls as one unit. Bathe them together, feed them together....if you kiss one, immediately kiss the other". The therapist indicated that both girls would be watching (very closely) to make sure they were equally loved.

And then she told me, "Never leave them alone with each other".

These words were the most practical and helpful advice I received while planning our adoption.

The weeks rolled into months and our life shifted and changed and we were molded into something entirely new. We were also beaten and pounded, by work, by exhaustion, and we stayed in survival mode for a very long time. We were, and we remain, a work in progress.

We were and we are also becoming........something new..... 

Cami was not always pleased with her little sister. Cami keeps her world in order. Delilah was like a hurricane.

One amazing quality Delilah brought to life was imagination. We didn't realize how little pretending Cami had been doing until Delilah burst on the scene..... part princess, part power ranger, and always in costume!

True, authentic, and healing play began even before the scratches and bruises had healed. And everyday now they play from morning to night. Playing is a good way to become sisters.

Since we were treating them as a unit, for the first six months or so, the girls were not separated. I remember the first time I took only one of them out. Delilah had an eye appointment and I let Cami stay home with her big sister. I had not given much thought to how significant this separation was for them. It was touching to see them come back together after that hour apart and hug and kiss as if they had not seen each other in years. And they still react the same way, even today, after every separation.

Not only are they sisters, but they realize they were not always sisters, and I like to think they have some awareness of the huge and beautiful forces that moved mountains and more in order to bring them together.

As I watch them playing now, rolling out play dough cookies for the Queen's birthday, I am in awe of their communion, the way they fit together, perfect puzzle pieces, in spite of, or because of all the ways they are different.

I don't claim to know how it all happened, but there is something I know to be true.

These girls became sisters. And it was more than a coincident, the way we have all ended up altogether.



Lynn said...

Your posts are always an inspiration to me, but this one more than ever! Sisterhood - a gift I only wish my Sarah could experience - is such a precious thing, and is unique in each and every case. Your whole family is special!!

Terynn said...

Look at how RELAXED Cami's face is in the last photo, compared with the stress, easily seen in the first three photos. Poor baby.

You are right, you may never know what this change cost Cami, but oh! what she has gained!!

Beautifully told, as always. <3

GB's Mom said...

My girls are still working on the sister thing. I hope GB gets as much out of having a sister as Cami has.

Life with JJ, Starr and Spice said...

Thanks for sharing this amazing tale of sisterhood. I can so relate with my DD. Such blessed unions!

a Tonggu Momma said...

We are just a few short months from sisterhood in our house and, although the age gap will be quite significant, I read this with interest. Thanks so much for sharing your experiences.

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